The War on Terrorism: A Look Back
By Albert Sproule
When the twin towers in lower Manhattan came down on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden was reported to have said that he and his followers had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. It has been over 10 months since the tragedy in NYC, at the Pentagon, and in western Pennsylvania. Now is an appropriate time to reflect on our journey as a nation over the past ten months.
Unfortunately, reflection reveals some shortcomings in the way we have responded to 9/11. Much of the time it appears that we act like a school of fish, swimming in a different direction each time a threat is sensed, real or not. We have not been able to see the forest through the trees. We have failed to define what the war on terrorism really is. Our military forces have been sent to fight in Afghanistan, as well as other parts of the globe. These forces, along with military units from other nations, have performed valiantly. However, their efforts have involved relatively short-run military objectives. We are told now that the war on terrorism continues and therein lies part of the problem. The lessons of the past require that a military commitment, particularly in time of war, be clearly defined and understood. Our current situation is not. The analogy of our war on terrorism to the war on drugs or the war on crime, or even the war on poverty, is a good one. They are all admirable ventures, but they lack the precision and clarity needed to guarantee and measure success. Rather, we are slowly moving to an ambiguous, open-ended conflict without the necessary long-term resolve. To make matters worse, we appear to be doing it unilaterally and with a touch of arrogance. We are part of the world community, and being a leader does not mean rejecting compromise and negotiation when others do not agree with us.
The performance of Congress over the past ten months has left something to be desired as well. A number of senators and representatives have taken it upon themselves to showcase their second guessing and 20/20 hindsight with regard to the performance of the intelligence community. Make no mistake about it. When they say it is not about second-guessing, it is exactly that. In point of fact, these are the last people who should be pointing fingers. There are many committees in Congress that have been briefed innumerable times on a yearly basis, for decades, about terrorism. If second-guessing is to be the rule of the day, then it should begin with Congress.
Specifically, Congress has been briefed about Osama bin Laden and his cohorts for years. Before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 3, 1998, former FBI Director Louis Freeh warned, "We have identified people in the United States, or people who have transited the United States, who are associated with him [Osama bin Laden]. Bin Laden poses about as serious and imminent a threat as I can imagine." This was fully three years before the attack. Clearly, Congress was fully briefed and said nothing. It was only after 9/11 that the "connecting-the-dot" game began.
Congress and others have hinted at something else to "help us" with the war on terrorism. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 is a law that precludes all branches of the U.S. military except the Coast Guard from active participation in executing law enforcement responsibilities within the United States. A terrorism report recently submitted to Congress by the Bush administration called for a more prominent role for the military and a review of the principle of separation of military and law enforcement responsibilities within the United States. This is a bad idea. The military cannot and should not be looked upon as a quick fix for domestic problems, especially when the principle of separating military influence over civilian law enforcement is at stake.
The future of this nation may need an exception to the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act in the area of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. However, this falls into the category of extraordinary military assistance, and it must be an appropriate exception. This does not mean that the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act should be dissolved. The separation of military and civilian power goes back to the founding of our nation. Deviation from this longstanding principle would invite a criminal justice disaster.
In summary, the big picture is there for us to see. We are being confronted with a foe that has combined fanaticism, hatred, and violence. The future adds the possibility of weapons of mass destruction to this terrorist equation. The United States, along with the rest of the world community, must respond with a unified vision to meet the tyranny of terrorism. The world's diplomats must continue to find common ground among discord. Our military forces, in close coalition with one another, must seek out and neutralize those who would destabilize and destroy. This must be done with clear direction and well-defined objectives. Now is also a suitable time to step back and understand the importance of aggressively addressing the world's social issues. AIDS, poverty, famine, ignorance and other ills provide fertile ground for all kinds of problems, terrorism certainly included.
The good news is that the current terrorist threat can be dealt with. Courageous political leadership, accompanied by appropriate military, diplomatic, and economic measures will enable us to prevent terrorism when and where we can. On those occasions when we cannot stop those who exploit our openness and freedom, we must pull together, as was done so impressively following 9/11. The consequence of failing to see the big picture in our present conflict is that Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, will have once again succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Press Release: Opinion Piece on Terrorism by Albert Sproule | Posted on: 8/9/2002
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