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In a free society, during peacetime, it is very hard to convince people to commit the time and resources to prepare for threats to national security. It is natural to postpone tackling disagreeable, unpleasant, and difficult realities. The United States has therefore given those around the world who would do harm every possible benefit of the doubt.
Today there can be no doubt. The world is dangerous and now the people of the United States are keenly aware of that truth. Security threats come in three distinct forms. The first is terrorism; the second is adventurous or outlaw states; and the third is potentially competitive great powers. Each threat represents a specific challenge and requires a particular defence strategy. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration is focused on a campaign to defeat terrorism around the globe. Acts of terrorism takes three basic shapes. Random acts by people who will occasionally act out their particular derangement in a violent way. Those are criminal actions to be handed by law enforcement. In a free society, there is always the potential that some of these acts are carried out successfully without detection. The second category is private groups engaged in terrorism. There are relatively few of them, they are very hard to sustain, and can almost always be tracked down.
The third are organised, systematic extensions of terror supported by nation states–powers engaging in guerrilla warfare, but masking it as terrorism. The Taleban is an example of state-sponsored terrorism because they allowed Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network to organise, plan and train in Afghanistan.
We failed to draw the proper conclusion after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre. After the 1996 attack on Kobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where 19 of our military personnel were murdered, we failed to apply the necessary pressure to force the Saudi Government to deal with terrorists based on their soil. Then in, 1998, we misdiagnosed the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Finally, in October last year we failed to properly analyse the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.
We were at war, but we insisted on reacting as if these were problems for the criminal justice system. Terrorism of this kind is not a law enforcement problem. It is a diplomatic, military, and intelligence agency problem. Diplomacy should always look for the best opportunities in dealing with foreign governments. Our Government should use language that is clear and coherent. We must be consistent so that our allies and our enemies know what to expect. Military thinking must be ruthlessly engaged in looking at capabilities, not guessing at intentions.
Finally, we should concentrate on increasing the capabilities of our intelligence agencies. We need to recognise the need for deep, long-term human intelligence. The Bekaa Valley and the mountains of Afghanistan cannot be penetrated effectively with satellites alone. We must be prepared to use methods such as bribery and other unpleasant means for securing such information. We can have no hope of stopping a weapon of mass destruction from being used in our cities unless we first penetrate the groups who would plan such an attack.
If we are to defeat organised, state-sponsored terrorism there are key initial steps we must take. First, we must demonstrate that we are serious. This must be understood by nations who have not yet fully committed themselves. The Taleban have failed to comply with the coalition demand that they destroy the terrorists’ cells within Afghanistan. We must therefore execute a plan for decisive victory, so that the Taleban are no longer in power, so they do not have the ability to take revenge, so they can no longer be a threat.
Second, after removing the Taleban and the terrorist cells in Afghanistan, we should recommit to the defeat of Sadam Hussein in Iraq. Defeating the Taleban without defeating Saddam is like defeating Imperial Japan and leaving the Nazis alone. As in Afghanistan, there are large numbers of Iraqi people who will help us crush Saddam. When Saddam falls, it should be made clear to the leaderships of the countries who harbour terrorists that they face a stark choice: eliminate the terrorists operating in your country or the United States and the coalition forces will assist your own people in removing you.
It is vital that we communicate the right vision. Destroying bin Laden is not enough. Our only legitimate goal must be to destroy all systems of terrorism around the globe. Every citizen of civilised nations around the world needs to understand that their very way of life is threatened. A world in which the German Nazis, the Imperial Japanese, and the Italian Fascists had won would have been a stunningly different world. Failing to eliminate organised terrorism while it is still using conventional weapons will inevitably result in a world where terrorists use weapons of mass destruction. September 11 was terrible and heartbreaking, but a providential warning.
Tony Blair has given a splendid example of leadership. The British Government, Parliament, and people have provided a strong example for other nations to follow. American soldiers have always felt confident knowing that British soldiers are on their flank.
America and its allies must pursue a strategic plan to defeat terrorism using all available technology and human resources. We are at war. We have to defeat terrorism or terrorism will end safety, freedom, and civilisation, as we know it. We have no alternative. Civilisation must win.
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.
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