(Washington, D.C.): Some stock-taking is in order after a week of terrorism in the suburban communities surrounding Washington, D.C. and in such distant locations as Indonesia, Yemen, Kuwait and Israel. A good place to start is with a comparison between the Beltway shooter and our enemies in the war on terror.
Both might be thought of as deadly mosquitoes, striking at will against vulnerable targets of opportunity, be they individuals going about their civilian lives here at home or those frequenting nightclubs in a foreign resort like Bali, crewing an oil tanker off the Yemeni coast, engaging in U.S.-Kuwaiti training exercises or riding on public buses in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The task faced by law enforcement personnel charged with catching and punishing those responsible — the equivalent of trying swat each mosquito before it attacks — is difficult, time-consuming and, while the killing continues, maddeningly futile.
There is an option available for dealing with terrorists like al Qaeda, however, that may not apply to the domestic assassin (assuming, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the latter is not one of the former). Applying the mosquito analogy, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the Bush Administration’s most serious and influential strategists, has observed that the United States can do more than just go after individual attackers. It can also work to “drain the swamps” — denying terrorists the safe-havens, logistical support, intelligence, financial assistance, training facilities and headquarters that state-sponsors of terrorism provide.
World War IV
The United States has already made good progress draining the Afghan “swamp.” While the job there is far from complete, al Qaeda no longer has the ability to use Afghanistan’s territory with impunity to plan, prepare and launch its deadly assaults.
That’s the good news. The bad news is — as the past week’s events indicate — al Qaeda cells and those of other terrorist organizations are still functioning elsewhere around the world. These are a vivid reminder of an unsavory reality. This is a global conflict, one whose scale and stakes are accurately captured in the moniker applied by some, most recently former CIA Director Jim Woolsey: World War IV (the Cold War counting as the globe-straddling struggle).
Some are arguing that the appropriate response to the threat posed by al Qaeda and its ilk is to do essentially what Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose and his colleagues are trying to accomplish: Figure out who the individual mosquitoes are and crush them. While such a campaign is seemingly the only approach available to deal with the Beltway sniper, it is not the only — and certainly not the most efficient — means of dealing with the global threat.
Fortunately, President Bush appears to understand that the war on terror cannot be successfully waged without going after the habitats from which our most virulent enemies operate. After dismantling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, he has rightly made the next priority denying al Qaeda and other terrorists the sponsorship of Saddam Hussein’s regime and access to its weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush Administration’s case for doing so would be further enhanced if it acknowledged what is indisputably true: Saddam not only has the sorts of connections to al Qaeda to which the President, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld and others have increasingly been referring. There is evidence that he has been involved in previous terrorist attacks on the United States, as well — notably, the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City truck-bombings and, of course, September 11th.
This evidence is circumstantial, in some cases fragmentary. It does not represent a “smoking gun” and U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly insisted that it is either unsubstantiated or at least not conclusive. Yet, if someone as serious about his own survival as Saddam Hussein is were to involve his regime in acts of terror against the United States, it stands to reason that he would go to great lengths to cover his tracks. Using cut-outs like a blind sheik in New Jersey with ties to Iran, angry American militia types (one of whom had ties to the Philippines) and terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden would be precisely the sort of tradecraft one would expect Saddam’s operatives to employ.
For that matter, the question arises whether Saddam is behind the attacks of the past week? Whether his bases, training facilities, funding, etc. are involved may never be proved but one thing is clear: His increasingly desperate bid to stave off the U.S. military’s liberation of Iraq — thereby draining that “swamp” — stands to benefit directly from the distracting effect of seemingly unrelated terrorist activities elsewhere.
The Bottom Line
To President Bush’s credit, the latest reminders of the global nature of this conflict appear not to have diverted him from a strategy of waging this World War wherever our enemies operate — and denying them the state-sponsors that maximize the lethality of their terrorist attacks. He would be well- advised to impress upon the American people, as part of that strategy, the necessity of mobilizing appropriately for such a conflict and the imperative of pursuing it in the only way likely to prove effective: by draining “swamps” like Saddam’s Iraq.