. . . Friday October 29, 2004

If Terrorism is Working, Our Strategy Isn’t

Following last week’s kidnapping of CARE director Margaret Hassan, the relief agency has officially shut down all of their operations in Baghad. This move follows a dangerous pattern. We saw the U.N. roll back its involvement following the attack on their headquarters in Baghdad. We also watched as the the government of the Philippines ceded to terrorist demands and pulled their troops out of the country. And of course Spain pulled troops from Iraq following the massive bombing in Madrid.

Terrorism’s greatest source of power is its effectiveness. And in the last few years, in many cases, it has been effective.

This is an era during which the greatest challenge to the U.S. is to reduce the terrorist threat. To do that, contrary to the constant drum-beating of this administration, we need near universal support from our allies, be they nations or international organizations. The message must be clear. Terrorism will not work.

That message has not been clear. In large part, this is due to the Bush administration’s short-sighted determination to make concrete the false link between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. That linkage made allies doubt our leadership. It split a family of nations previously unified by a determination to make 9-11 the end of a era and not the beginning of one.

President Bush has a scorecard in his desk drawer on which he crosses out the names of wanted terrorists who are captured or killed. Those fringe groups who turn to terror have their own scorecards. And those scorecards have a few important victories. Victories that can help with recruitment and victories that help convince those involved that the strategy of brutality and terror can work. And on those scorecards, a victory against Spain, a victory against the Philippines, or a disgusting victory against the good will of a respected relief agency, are all ultimately victories against us.

What is most required to get the upper hand in this struggle is an administration that can unify the civilized world in the battle against terror. If terrorism works here and there, it will go on and on. We need allies with whom we share an unbreakable resolve and from whom we maintain a determined loyalty.

Even if we do everything right, keeping that loyalty will be an uphill battle.

That makes it all the more frustrating that too often we have squandered that loyalty. This has nothing to do with some simplistic and offensive nonsense about asking for a permission slip to protect ourselves. This is about striking a blow to terrorist groups instead of allowing them to have the precious currency of hope that has come their way too often since we entered Iraq.

This is important. The stupid comments about permissions slips that come from Cheney or the childish lashing out at old Europe that comes from Rumsfeld do not make us stronger. They achieve nothing. They makes us less secure.

Remember, the goal here is to protect free societies and to reduce the threat of terror. Tough talk doesn’t get us closer to that goal. Offending our allies doesn’t get us closer to that goal. And allowing cracks to develop in an alliance that must be steady, sturdy and resolved does not get us closer to that goal.

The events I’ve described above are significant losses in this war on terrorists. And they represent a failure of leadership. You can of course blame the other countries and or international organizations for their weakness or their failure to really understand what’s at stake here. But first ask yourself this question:

What good will that do you?

Concentration is important!