Symposium: The War on Terror. How Are We Doing?
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Frontpage Symposium has gathered three distinguished experts to give a report card on the War on Terror. We have the honor to introduce:
Robert Leiken: the director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center and the author of Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security after 9/11;
Michael Ledeen: an NRO Contributing Editor and the resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. He has served in the White House as a national security adviser, and in the Departments of Defense and State. He is the author of The War Against the Terror Masters;
Daniel Pipes: (www.DanielPipes.org) Director of the Middle East Forum, columnist for the New York Sun and Jerusalem Post, member of the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).
FP: Robert Leiken, Michael Ledeen and Daniel Pipes, it is an honor to be in your company. Welcome to Frontpage Symposium. Mr. Leiken, let me begin with you. How are we doing in the War on Terror?
Leiken: We did rather well in the war against terrorism for the first year or so. We destroyed al Qaeda's Afghan sanctuary, depriving it of training camps, command and control etc. We decimated it main leadership, separated that from its affiliated networks, by building a broad police alliance that rounded up jihadis in countries around the world.
9-11 united the country allowing Congress to pass the Patriot Act which provided necessary modern resources in the war against terrorism. We started revamping the FBI, created Homeland Security Dept, accelerated human intelligence in the CIA -- all much needed measures.
I favored the war in Iraq which I thought a noble cause, but I assumed we would defeat Saddam's dilapidated army rapidly and get back quickly to our main enemy: Sunni terrorism. The results have been otherwise. The war removed assets from Afghanistan and Pakistan taking pressure off Osama bin Laden. It allowed al Qaeda to open two new fronts-- in Iraq and Europe -- divided the anti-terrorist alliance, sparked anti-Americanism around the world and divided Americans into 2 camps.
Now Iraq, as President Bush has said, has become a central front in the war against terrorism and we are fighting on unfavorable terrain, with ebbing popular support and growing elite opposition to the Patriot Act and other necessary elements of the war on terrorism. Meanwhile al Qaeda has become a movement with diverse groups, international popularity and now capable, as March 11 showed, of landing strategic blows. So I would say the results are mixed, somewhat disappointing today.
FP: Dr. Ledeen?
Ledeen: It's hard to answer that question, since we would need a more complete picture of "terrorism" than we currently possess. Certainly Afghanistan was a success, although the security situation there is not good, and probably getting worse.
I don't think we have a working definition of "terrorism," which makes it hard to produce a coherent strategy. And now that we're in an election year, there is an enormous amount of time and energy devoted to fighting smallish fires that otherwise would not dominate our attention. As I have been saying for several years now, we have taken much too long to move against the terror masters, and the enormous loss of time between Afghanistan and Iraq permitted our enemies to organize politically and "militarily," which cost us international support, made Iraq more dangerous after the fall of Saddam, and gave the remaining terror masters a respite.
I agree with the President's original formulation: we are fighting both a network of terrorists and a group of countries that supports the terrorists. The "big four" were Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (which is at once a friend and an enemy). The most important of these is Iran, but we have yet to come to grips with the Islamic Republic, to our great cost. Our greatest weapon against "terrorism" is democratic revolution, yet we have been loath to deploy that weapon, whether by genuinely sharing power with the Iraqis or by supporting the opposition to the regimes in Syria and Iran.
I do not at all agree with Bob that our key enemy is "Sunni terrorism." I think that (Shi'ite) Hezbollah is a major enemy, and in fact is the matrix through which the others operate, especially in Iraq. I think it is a mistake to talk of separate terror groups. I think they are working so closely with one another that it would be better to talk of a terror "galaxy" or some such.
I don't have much confidence in our intelligence community, and I expect to see a replay of Madrid here, in the run-up to the presidential election.
FP: Dr. Pipes? Is our key enemy Sunni terrorism? Or is it better to talk of a terror galaxy? Why have we taken too long to act against the terror masters? Should we have moved against Iran by now?
Pipes: The Sunni-Shi‘i distinction is irrelevant here; rather the focus is on the totalitarian ideology of militant Islam, regardless of whether its proponents are Sunni or Shi‘i, Pakistani or Parisian, male or female, violent or not. (Indeed, I believe the greater long-term threat comes from the non-violent Islamists, for we know better how to deal with terrorism than with subversion.)
We have moved so slowly against terror-sponsoring regimes because, as Afghanistan and Iraq show, the results of such actions are messy and potentially debilitating. Assuming that the Iranian regime can be contained, I am against American steps to overthrow it, for the simple reason that the Iranian populace is on track to doing this itself, and that will be a far better conclusion than if done by U.S. forces. If it cannot be contained, then military action might well be necessary.
As for your general question, how goes the war on terror, I judge this not by how many Al-Qaeda operatives have been killed, networks disrupted, or other such calculations. I judge it rather by the state of mind of the adversaries. Are the forces of militant Islam encouraged or despondent, unified or divided? And the same goes for the forces fighting militant Islam, Americans in particular – what is their condition?
Looked at this way, militant Islam was gaining in force through the two decades "when America slept," 1979-2001. Then it took a severe battering post-9/11, when Americans woke up to this danger in a unified manner. Two and a half years later, substantial numbers of Americans have not just returned to a pre-9/11 lethargy, but have done so in an ideologically-driven manner. (I documented this five months ago in a column titled "Democrats Unlearn 9/11.") That many of us are willfully closing our eyes to a global danger worries me. If this continues, the price will be steep in lives, treasury, and duration of the war. We ultimately will prevail, but at a much greater cost to ourselves than need have been the case.
Leiken: I do not want to sidetrack us from the central point that Daniel Pipes makes about returning to a "pre-9-11 lethargy" so I'll come back to it in a moment after considering the objections to my targeting "Sunni terrorism" as "the main enemy." I think it usually makes good strategic sense to determine your current main enemy as opposed to an historical enemy who may be a present ally or a neutral (I was not crazy about the "with us or against us" line in Bush's 9-11 speech either).
We could summarize the second part of the twentieth century as the struggle of "the West against totalitarianism" but that would overlook the strategic discriminations that are essential to war and politics. Roosevelt and Churchill were right to ally with Stalin against Hitler. Kissinger, Nixon and Reagan were right to ally with China against the Soviet Union.
It may have been a mistake, in retrospect, to take on Saddam's totalitarianism before delivering a mortal blow to Osama and coping with the Korean nuclear threat. I think Pipes is right to oppose US attempts to overthrow Iran (but to support the internal democratic movement). A larger question, which I am not competent to answer, is how broadly we can ally with Shi'ites like Ali-Sistani (in Iraq) and whether such openness extend to the political wing of Hizbollah or to peaceful Muslim Brothers (Dan Pipes surely thinks not).
The other side of narrowing our enemy is broadening our alliances. The war in Iraq did the opposite, we have reaped cleavage in the alliance against terrorism (with the United States largely at odds with most of Europe and many other parts of the world). If a US policy can reduce anti-Americanism, without sacrificing strategic allies like Israel, I am for it.
But to return to Pipes' point about returning to a pre-9-11 lethargy. I think of it as distraction, distraction laced with scandal – in the tradition of Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky et al. In retrospect the Iraq war may have been a distraction; Abu Ghraib certainly is. We have allowed partisan politics to take us back to a 9-10 world. So at our peril we turn our backs on the Madrid bombing, the fates of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg et al.
The lotus eaters even have the audacity to claim that Ashcroft and the Patriot Act curtail essential liberties. They believe we have the luxury of an obsessive media scandal about some disgraceful behavior in an American prison in Iraq. The lotus eaters . would have us return to the heyday of what David Horowitz once called "the destructive generation," whose great aim was to discredit "imperialism" and the American soldier. am sure Abu Musab al-Zawari (about whom I wrote in the Weekly Standard in the May 24 issue) and Osama, Zawahiri and other Sunni terrorists would be delighted to see us turn into lotus land.
Ledeen: Are the jihadists happy with the way the war is going? Do Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Assad and the Saudis feel more secure, their power enhanced, compared to three years ago? Or are they worried about the spread of American power, and, along with it, American ideals?
I think more the latter than the former, so I think we've made some progress…but. At the moment we are dawdling and playing electoral politics, which is an invitation to the terror masters to calmly plan their next attacks against us. Dan Pipes is against an invasion of Iran. Me too. But I am also against the easy and comforting assumption that the Iranians will bring down the regime for us, and we don't need to do anything. That's the same kind of thinking in which Bush the First indulged at the end of the Gulf War I, as the Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurds rose against Saddam. We must encourage and support the Iranian democratic opposition.
I think the debate over "are we at war with radical Islam or at we at war with radical Islamist regimes?" is much like the debate over whether, in the Cold War, we faced a radical communist regime in Moscow or an expansionist Russian nationalism. In each case, the radical ideology provided the language through which our enemies expressed themselves, in which they most frequently thought, and with which they proselytized all over the world. When we defeated the Soviet Union, we simultaneously dealt a blow to the appeal of communism, and when we help bring down the terror masters in Tehran, Damascus and Riadh, we, along with the newly-liberated peoples of Iran, Iraq, Syria and at least part of Saudi Arabia, will have dealt a blow to the appeal of jihadism, whether Sunni or Shi'ite.
Most of the time, the defeat of the false messiah spells the end of the messianic movement. We want to be able to say to the Islamic world: "you installed fundamentalist regimes in Afghanistan and Iran, the one Sunni the other Shi'ite. Both failed on the most fundamental grounds: the countries were wrecked and the people hated them. They were easily overthrown, demonstrating the emptiness of their vision and the contempt of their citizens. Give up this false vision, which always leads to failure, humiliation and death. Embrace freedom and progress, which leads to success, life and happiness."
FP: Dr. Pipes, how optimistic are you that we can bring democracy to the Arab Middle East? To be honest, when I look at Arab tribal culture and the dedication to Islamism among so many of the inhabitants of that region, I get rather pessimistic about democracy even having a chance in penetrating those societies any time soon. Could you kindly answer this question in the context of what you think we should be pursuing in Iraq in the near future?
Pipes: I believe that there is no inherent contradiction between Islam and democracy – any more than there is between any other religion and democracy. That said, Muslims face a huge challenge in modernizing the understanding of Islam so that it is compatible with democracy.
I have endorsed President Bush's call for the wave of democracy to reach the Middle East even as I see this as a risky and far-from-sure policy that will take years and decades to implement. But the present system is hopelessly broken and democracy is a solution that has worked in most other parts of the world and could help in this one too.
As for Iraq, it too will require years and decades before it become a stable democracy. In the meantime, I have argued, the U.S. goal "cannot be a free Iraq, but an Iraq that does not endanger Americans."
FP: Ok Mr. Leiken, feel free to make a rejoinder to the previous comments. Also, as this is our last round, after your comments please answer one final question:
Suppose that tomorrow the three of you were appointed by President Bush to be his new advisors on the War on Terror. The President turns to you first and asks: "Mr. Leiken, tell me the next steps I must take in the War on Terror in general and in Iraq in particular."
What do you tell the President?
Leiken: My three steps for fighting the war on terror would include reinventing national security, beginning with the FBI, the CIA, bringing our borders into the information revolution and reviving USIA with a new mission of religious toleration.
We need to reinvent national security to cope with post-national terrorist networks. The Cold War and industrial age terrorist organizations were hierarchical and centralized, like communist parties, and enjoyed the sponsorship of states like Syria and Iran.
But this is not the Cold War with a state sponsoring an ideology. True, Saudis financed Wahhabi mosques, but the Saudi regime is more the target of terrorists today than their master.
It was an idée fixe and disastrous premise of the Bush administration that al Qaeda enjoyed state sponsorship, a "terror master." Richard Perle told a symposium at the Nixon Center three weeks after 9/11 that we should discount Osama bin Laden and "go after the state sponsorship that permits suicide bombers to get within range of their targets."
That state sponsor was Iraq. "Operations such as those we witnessed on September 11," he told us, "are not planned in caves; they're planned in offices by people who have secretaries and support staffs and research and communications and technology…."(See The National Interest, Special Issue, The Terror, November 2001). So we picked a rock to hurl at Iraq (a noble gesture as I said) but it fell on our feet.
Zarqawi's network operates without any state sponsorship; Madrid proved conclusively that spectacular mass terrorism can be planned and executed without state sponsorship. But well before that business organization theorists were arguing that information networks were a new organizational form supplanting the market and the hierarchy. Theorists like David Rondfeldt and others at the Rand Corporation were arguing that terrorist groups like al Qaeda were based on complex networks of relatively autonomous groups, financed from private sources and using information technology.
The terrorist group of the information age is based, as business increasingly is, on segmented, poly-centered, integrated networks – SPIN. These networks are reticulated systems integrating leaders and operatives who have doctrinal, familial, personal and/or structural ties. The strongest networks are those with a well-defined doctrine (such as Islamism) and a winning narrative structured plus a communicating system resting on strong personal and social ties. Lateral networks with on-line training camps and recruitment chat rooms are what we're up against. Our government is unequipped to deal with this in part because our (hierarchical) structure, unlike theirs, does not share information well. We need to reinvent government, as a once apparently serious person turned clown once said, bring it into the information age.
This is especially true with respect to our borders. We need post-industrial borders, smart borders, where border services expand to points of origin but borders themselves become slimmer and faster. Presently European nationals, Europe is Zarqawi's richest recruitment area right now, can board planes and enter the US without so much as an interview by US officials because of our reciprocal Visa Waiver Program with Europe. Just as we now place customs agents in Rotterdam and Hong Kong to inspect packages before they are sealed, we need Homeland Security agents at European air ports who can interview questionable passengers before they board.
Eventually we shall need voluntary e-visas and voluntary identity cards so that anyone, as Richard Perle himself suggested at another meeting, who purchases large quantities of fertilizers like those used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City would have to present identification and undergo a rapid check.
(Those interested in such proposals can consult my Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security After 9-11 at www.nixoncenter.org.) I'll be testifying on the subject of European terrorism and visa waivers at hearings of the Terrorism subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee next Wednesday June 16)
Finally, we need to recreate the US Information Service which stood us well in the fight against Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism. But now it should focus on spreading the message not of democracy so much as its first principle, religious freedom. John Stuart Mill said in On Liberty that the seminal battle for individual rights and democracy in the West was for religious toleration.
That cause was the stepping stone to the Enlightenment, the democratic revolution and modernization in the West and shaped the American foundation and creed. "The tolerant model" of Islam's predominated into the twentieth century as the Egyptian thinker Tarek Heggy reminds us. The revival of that model could revitalize and facilitate the process of integrating Muslims into the modern world.
But it will not be easy. Thanks to the close connection between mosque and state, the separation of church and state will be a challenge for Islam. The mosque's minbar traditionally served as a platform for the announcement of appointment and dismissal of officials, the installation of rulers, news of war and conquest. Sharia was Allah's law, supposed to rule all men and to take precedence over any man-made law. Given their transnational organization, their historical commitment and their enmity to religious freedom, we should expect a long twilight struggle against Sunni terrorism irrespective of the capture of Osama.
Ledeen: Well I see nobody wants to hear about the terror masters. Bob Leiken has decided that the terrorists operate on their own, even asserting—in the face of hundreds of documents proving the contrary—that Zarkawi is an independent actor. I just don't know what one has to do to get an excellent person like Leiken to look at the evidence. He even wrote an article about Zarkawi in which he referred to German court documents, but never mentioned the even larger quantity of Italian documents, that trace Zarkawi back to Tehran over a period of several years. The evidence includes testimony from Zarkawi's couriers and recruits, and intercepts of his phone calls to European terror cells from Tehran. So while I think it's possible to discuss the degree of control the Iranians exercise, it's preposterous to argue that there is none. Iran created Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and houses the top al Qaeda leaders. Do the mullahs have nothing to do with the terror network?
Back in the Cold War days lots of "experts" told us that the Soviet Union didn't support terrorism, and ridiculed people like me and Richard Perle when we asserted the opposite. Now there is solid evidence to support us from the Politburo and KGB archives. Then, too, we were told that the terrorists--Hezbollah, for example--were independent actors. Now we know that Hezbollah was an Iranian creation, pure and simple. And Hezbollah is very active in Iraq today. But still Leiken tells us that we are crazy to believe that Iran is involved. In recent days, the mullahs publicly announced they were recruiting ten thousand suicide terrorists for action in Iraq. But Leiken thinks the terrorists are independent of state control and support. Give me a break.
If I were advising the president I would tell him to support the democratic revolution in Syria and Iran, because the downfall of the tyrannical regimes in Damascus and Tehran would deliver a massive body blow to the terrorists. The papers are full of stories about how the Syrians ship terrorists and weapons and explosives into Iraq, and just a few days ago the Ukrainians in Iraq arrested forty heavily armed Iranians trying to sneak across the border. That sort of thing isn't being done by an entrepreneurial terrorist group on its own.
It's very discouraging, I must say. I think there are lots of Iranians, the overwhelming majority in fact, who would rise against the regime if they saw there were firm American support. If we do nothing, we will soon see the world's largest supporter of international terrorism in possession of atomic bombs. Then what? Unleash USIA? This is a real war, Americans are being killed every day, along with friends and allies.
Our only choices are to win or lose. There is no comfortable "management" program available.
Pipes: So, the President turns to me and asks: "Tell me the next steps I must take in the War on Terror in general and in Iraq in particular," and I reply as follows.
War on Terror: Rename it the War on Militant Islam. Just as a physician must identify a disease before treating it, so a strategist must identify the enemy before defeating it. What would World War II have looked like had FDR named it the War against Surprise Attacks? Let me note just one, familiar cost of pretending the war is against users of a tactic rather than supporters of an ideology: airport security personnel, told they may not scrutinize any passengers except those "properly selected on a truly random basis," looks not for terrorists but for the implements of terrorism, such as nail files and metallic knee caps. Only when Americans are ready to confront the fact that they are fighting an enemy motivated by a religious-based totalitarian body of ideas will they fight effectively. In the meantime, they can watch the political theater of an Al Gore, nearly elected president of the United States, going through two extra security searches in less than one day.
Iraq: Pull troops to the uninhabited parts of Iraq, keep guard over the borders, make sure nothing goes very wrong within the country, and encourage the Iraqis to develop a sense of responsibility for their future.
Leiken: I agree with Michael Ledeen that we should be finding ways better to support the movement in Iran. And I am happy to look at any evidence Michael can furnish me from Italian sources or any others. I believe information sharing among non-government as well as government analysts makes us stronger, creates a network to oppose terror networks. I try to draw parsimonious conclusions from broad evidence. Michael once wrote an excellent, nuanced book called Perilous Statecraft on Iran-Contra, but has lately taken to drawing large conclusions from small evidence –e.g. his regular predictions of "the "downfall of the mullacracy" every time a few protesting students gather in Tehran. Now he urges us to believe that Abu Musab al Zarqawi is under the control of the "terror masters" in Tehran. Yet this is the same Zarqawi who murdered nearly 200 Shiíte pilgrims in a double truck bombing at a religious festival in Iraq last February and who instructed Osama bin Laden in an intercepted message that the Shiites were "worse and more destructive to the [Islam] nation than the Americans" and comprised "the most evil of mankind … the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom."
On what evidence does Ledeen base his conclusion that the Shiite theocracy and Zarqawi the Shia hater are puppet master and puppet? True Zarqawi has spent time in Iran, a relationship that probably dates to the early 90's when Zarqawi, operating independently from al Qaeda, controlled the routes between Iran and Afghanistan. One occasion apparently Zarqawi was detained in Iran and released as he traveled from Afghanistan into Iraq after the war began. Tehran probably looked favorably on an insurgency in Iraq and probably saw Zarqawi as helpful -- as Alexis Debat mentions in an upcoming issue of The National Interest. But presence in a country, even contact with security forces, does "not take you to authority, direction and control" in the now famous words of George Tenet (Woodward, Plan of Attack: 300) when he advised President Bush regarding Zarqawi's presence in Baghdad. The issue in these controversies about Baghdad and Osama and now Tehran and Zarqawi is not "connection"—one can frequently find "connections" of one sort of another in the terrorist underworld. The issue is the character of the connection; does it reflect "authority, direction and control?" Zarqawi does not take orders from Tehran; if he did he would not be slaughtering Shiites.
One way that leads to intelligence mistakes is to fail to "connect the dots"; another is to smush the dots together into one that blots the light. Yes several al Qaeda leaders "reside" in Tehran, but according to the CIA they are "detained" there, under house arrest and supervision, presumably as a bargaining chip vis a vis the U.S.
My remarks about the independence of the new generation of terrorist networks focused on Sunni terrorism, the main danger. I was not talking about Shiite Hizbollah (about whom Michael is undoubtedly correct) nor the Palestinian terrorists. Still less was I talking about the Cold War and would probably agree with Ledeen and Perle about many of their arguments in that terrain. But those are all different dots that need to be examined concretely.
My point is that the Sunni terrorism we are up against today does not rely on a state sponsorship, is not controlled by state "terror masters" or need them to undertake actions such as the Madrid bombings or even 9/11 (though clearly training camps in Afghanistan were useful for the latter). The belief that Saddam sponsored al Qaeda led us into Iraq, a noble cause but an ill-timed adventure. Now, because Iraq has become a central front for jihadis, we are called on to prevail there. But we can only do by clearly identifying our enemies, our allies and neutrals and secondary enemies who may, like Iran, like China, like Stalin against Hitler, make a positive contribution.
I agree with Daniel Pipes – the war on terrorism or terror is a misleading phrase. It could lead to the conclusion that the terrorists hang together and can be counted on to cooperate – like Saddam and Osama. It could lead to the view that people become terrorists and then decide which flavor to adopt. No, terror is a tactic that has been attached to a variety of opposed ideologies: nationalist, anarchist, Communist, Nazi, fascist, Islamist etc. Terrorism like war is an extension of a specific politics. Very early Daniel Pipes wrote that the ideology and politics we should focus on was radical Islam. I would amend only that to say that Sunni extremism is our most immediate danger and that perhaps Shiítes may be enlisted in the struggle, even, in perilous and imaginative statecraft Tehran. Certainly Ayatollah al-Sistani has proved to be a useful ally – and, as we have seen, Tehran may have its uses in this war—but not, as Michael rightly reminds us, at the price of selling out the democratic movement for its success would be a great victory in the war on terrorism.
Pipes: A few comments on the Ledeen-Leiken debate over the state role in promoting terrorism: Undoubtedly, states such as the Iranian and Syrian ones are part of the problem but the real energy comes less from desiccated government bureaucracies than from free-lance ideologues.
As for the Sunni-Shi`i question: I repeat my earlier point that this is a near irrelevancy. As the situation in Iraq makes clear, where one finds radicals and moderates of both the Sunni and Shi`i persuasion, what counts are a person's outlook, not his sectarian affiliation.
FP: Robert Leiken, Michael Ledeen and Daniel Pipes, thank you. We are out of time. We hope to see you again soon.
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