Being Safe from Terror

On the fifth anniversary of September 11th, President George W Bush stated that Americans are safer now than before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks five years ago because of steps taken by his administration, noting in his weekly radio address that, “We’ve acted to address the gaps in security, intelligence and information sharing that the terrorists exploited in the 9-11 attacks.”

But are we safer? Not according to the experts. A sweeping assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies, just released, states that the war in Iraq has made global terrorism worse by fanning Islamic radicalism and providing a training ground for lethal methods that are increasingly being exported to other countries. The report represents a consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies (what we call at work the IC, or Intelligence Community).

The report, titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” was completed and described to U.S. government officials in April but not made public (as the specific contents are classified). The document is what is known as a National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, which is designed to represent the U.S. intelligence community’s most comprehensive treatment of a subject.

Officials familiar with the document have said that the report paints a fairly stark picture of what we all know, and that this is a movement that is spreading and gaining momentum around the world. The report notes that things like the Iraq war have given the terrorists recruiting tools and places to ply their trade and a training ground. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a former principal deputy director of national intelligence and current CIA director, has said that the global jihadist movement “is spreading and adjusting to our counterterrorism efforts, and it is also exploiting the communications revolution, the Internet.” He noted that Islamic activists were increasingly identifying themselves as jihadists, and that they were “increasing in both their number and in their geographic dispersion.”

In other words: we would likely have done much better to have finished the job in Afghanistan before we did anything related to Iraq, and we should have made sure we were ready to fight and finish the Iraq battle before we started it. But that’s hindsight, and we’re already involved. Bush is correct when he says “The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.”, but I’m unsure if the administration has the skill and the knowledge to do the job right.

I do think the “War on Terror” is going to be a long one, and it may be a deciding factor in the shape of this century, just as the assassination of an Archduke and the ramifications resulting therefrom shaped the last century. As we look for leaders to get us out of this morass and to take the right approach, let’s look beyond platitudes and speeches, and look for proposals for realistic and effective approaches. It cannot be U.S. vs. them — it has to be us vs. them: in other words, a coalition devoted to rationalism and “western” approaches to conflict resolution, as opposed to one devoted to blind ideology and use of the sword and civilian deaths to enforce your rule.

In writing this, I flashed on my last journal entry, a review of the play Fences. The parallels are apt. Troy Maxson wanted to build fences to keep his ideology in, and to attempt to keep the world out. This is just what the extremists want to do: to use fences of terror to enforce their ideological viewpoints. It didn’t work for Troy Maxson, but in battling the fences, his family ended up damaged. We need to figure out how to fight the fences without our society becoming damaged.