Frontpage Symposium has gathered three distinguished experts to give a report card on the War on Terror. We have the honor to introduce:
Robert Leiken: the director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center and the author of Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security after 9/11;
Michael Ledeen: an NRO Contributing Editor and the resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. He has served in the White House as a national security adviser, and in the Departments of Defense and State. He is the author of The War Against the Terror Masters;
Daniel Pipes: (www.DanielPipes.org) Director of the Middle East Forum, columnist for the New York Sun and Jerusalem Post, member of the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).
FP: Robert Leiken, Michael Ledeen and Daniel Pipes, it is an honor to be in your company. Welcome to Frontpage Symposium. Mr. Leiken, let me begin with you. How are we doing in the War on Terror?
Leiken: We did rather well in the war against terrorism for the first year or so. We destroyed al Qaeda's Afghan sanctuary, depriving it of training camps, command and control etc. We decimated it main leadership, separated that from its affiliated networks, by building a broad police alliance that rounded up jihadis in countries around the world.
9-11 united the country allowing Congress to pass the Patriot Act which provided necessary modern resources in the war against terrorism. We started revamping the FBI, created Homeland Security Dept, accelerated human intelligence in the CIA -- all much needed measures.
I favored the war in Iraq which I thought a noble cause, but I assumed we would defeat Saddam's dilapidated army rapidly and get back quickly to our main enemy: Sunni terrorism. The results have been otherwise. The war removed assets from Afghanistan and Pakistan taking pressure off Osama bin Laden. It allowed al Qaeda to open two new fronts-- in Iraq and Europe -- divided the anti-terrorist alliance, sparked anti-Americanism around the world and divided Americans into 2 camps.
Now Iraq, as President Bush has said, has become a central front in the war against terrorism and we are fighting on unfavorable terrain, with ebbing popular support and growing elite opposition to the Patriot Act and other necessary elements of the war on terrorism. Meanwhile al Qaeda has become a movement with diverse groups, international popularity and now capable, as March 11 showed, of landing strategic blows. So I would say the results are mixed, somewhat disappointing today.
FP: Dr. Ledeen?
Ledeen: It’s hard to answer that question, since we would need a more complete picture of “terrorism” than we currently possess. Certainly Afghanistan was a success, although the security situation there is not good, and probably getting worse.
I don’t think we have a working definition of “terrorism,” which makes it hard to produce a coherent strategy. And now that we’re in an election year, there is an enormous amount of time and energy devoted to fighting smallish fires that otherwise would not dominate our attention. As I have been saying for several years now, we have taken much too long to move against the terror masters, and the enormous loss of time between Afghanistan and Iraq permitted our enemies to organize politically and “militarily,” which cost us international support, made Iraq more dangerous after the fall of Saddam, and gave the remaining terror masters a respite.
I agree with the President’s original formulation: we are fighting both a network of terrorists and a group of countries that supports the terrorists. The “big four” were Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (which is at once a friend and an enemy). The most important of these is Iran, but we have yet to come to grips with the Islamic Republic, to our great cost. Our greatest weapon against “terrorism” is democratic revolution, yet we have been loath to deploy that weapon, whether by genuinely sharing power with the Iraqis or by supporting the opposition to the regimes in Syria and Iran.
I do not at all agree with Bob that our key enemy is “Sunni terrorism.” I think that (Shi’ite) Hezbollah is a major enemy, and in fact is the matrix through which the others operate, especially in Iraq. I think it is a mistake to talk of separate terror groups. I think they are working so closely with one another that it would be better to talk of a terror “galaxy” or some such.
I don’t have much confidence in our intelligence community, and I expect to see a replay of Madrid here, in the run-up to the presidential election.
FP: Dr. Pipes? Is our key enemy Sunni terrorism? Or is it better to talk of a terror galaxy? Why have we taken too long to act against the terror masters? Should we have moved against Iran by now?
Pipes: The Sunni-Shi‘i distinction is irrelevant here; rather the focus is on the totalitarian ideology of militant Islam, regardless of whether its proponents are Sunni or Shi‘i, Pakistani or Parisian, male or female, violent or not. (Indeed, I believe the greater long-term threat comes from the non-violent Islamists, for we know better how to deal with terrorism than with subversion.)
We have moved so slowly against terror-sponsoring regimes because, as Afghanistan and Iraq show, the results of such actions are messy and potentially debilitating. Assuming that the Iranian regime can be contained, I am against American steps to overthrow it, for the simple reason that the Iranian populace is on track to doing this itself, and that will be a far better conclusion than if done by U.S. forces. If it cannot be contained, then military action might well be necessary.
As for your general question, how goes the war on terror, I judge this not by how many Al-Qaeda operatives have been killed, networks disrupted, or other such calculations. I judge it rather by the state of mind of the adversaries. Are the forces of militant Islam encouraged or despondent, unified or divided? And the same goes for the forces fighting militant Islam, Americans in particular – what is their condition?
Looked at this way, militant Islam was gaining in force through the two decades “when America slept,” 1979-2001. Then it took a severe battering post-9/11, when Americans woke up to this danger in a unified manner. Two and a half years later, substantial numbers of Americans have not just returned to a pre-9/11 lethargy, but have done so in an ideologically-driven manner. (I documented this five months ago in a column titled “Democrats Unlearn 9/11.”) That many of us are willfully closing our eyes to a global danger worries me. If this continues, the price will be steep in lives, treasury, and duration of the war. We ultimately will prevail, but at a much greater cost to ourselves than need have been the case.
Leiken: I do not want to sidetrack us from the central point that Daniel Pipes makes about returning to a “pre-9-11 lethargy” so I’ll come back to it in a moment after considering the objections to my targeting “Sunni terrorism” as “the main enemy.” I think it usually makes good strategic sense to determine your current main enemy as opposed to an historical enemy who may be a present ally or a neutral (I was not crazy about the “with us or against us” line in Bush’s 9-11 speech either).
We could summarize the second part of the twentieth century as the struggle of “the West against totalitarianism” but that would overlook the strategic discriminations that are essential to war and politics. Roosevelt and Churchill were right to ally with Stalin against Hitler. Kissinger, Nixon and Reagan were right to ally with China against the Soviet Union.
It may have been a mistake, in retrospect, to take on Saddam’s totalitarianism before delivering a mortal blow to Osama and coping with the Korean nuclear threat. I think Pipes is right to oppose US attempts to overthrow Iran (but to support the internal democratic movement). A larger question, which I am not competent to answer, is how broadly we can ally with Shi’ites like Ali-Sistani (in Iraq) and whether such openness extend to the political wing of Hizbollah or to peaceful Muslim Brothers (Dan Pipes surely thinks not).
The other side of narrowing our enemy is broadening our alliances. The war in Iraq did the opposite, we have reaped cleavage in the alliance against terrorism (with the United States largely at odds with most of Europe and many other parts of the world). If a US policy can reduce anti-Americanism, without sacrificing strategic allies like Israel, I am for it.
But to return to Pipes’ point about returning to a pre-9-11 lethargy. I think of it as distraction, distraction laced with scandal – in the tradition of Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky et al. In retrospect the Iraq war may have been a distraction; Abu Ghraib certainly is. We have allowed partisan politics to take us back to a 9-10 world. So at our peril we turn our backs on the Madrid bombing, the fates of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg et al.
The lotus eaters even have the audacity to claim that Ashcroft and the Patriot Act curtail essential liberties. They believe we have the luxury of an obsessive media scandal about some disgraceful behavior in an American prison in Iraq. The lotus eaters . would have us return to the heyday of what David Horowitz once called “the destructive generation,” whose great aim was to discredit “imperialism” and the American soldier. am sure Abu Musab al-Zawari (about whom I wrote in the Weekly Standard in the May 24 issue) and Osama, Zawahiri and other Sunni terrorists would be delighted to see us turn into lotus land.
Ledeen: Are the jihadists happy with the way the war is going? Do Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Assad and the Saudis feel more secure, their power enhanced, compared to three years ago? Or are they worried about the spread of American power, and, along with it, American ideals?
I think more the latter than the former, so I think we’ve made some progress…but. At the moment we are dawdling and playing electoral politics, which is an invitation to the terror masters to calmly plan their next attacks against us. Dan Pipes is against an invasion of Iran. Me too. But I am also against the easy and comforting assumption that the Iranians will bring down the regime for us, and we don’t need to do anything. That’s the same kind of thinking in which Bush the First indulged at the end of the Gulf War I, as the Iraqi Shi’ites and Kurds rose against Saddam. We must encourage and support the Iranian democratic opposition.
I think the debate over “are we at war with radical Islam or at we at war with radical Islamist regimes?” is much like the debate over whether, in the Cold War, we faced a radical communist regime in Moscow or an expansionist Russian nationalism. In each case, the radical ideology provided the language through which our enemies expressed themselves, in which they most frequently thought, and with which they proselytized all over the world. When we defeated the Soviet Union, we simultaneously dealt a blow to the appeal of communism, and when we help bring down the terror masters in Tehran, Damascus and Riadh, we, along with the newly-liberated peoples of Iran, Iraq, Syria and at least part of Saudi Arabia, will have dealt a blow to the appeal of jihadism, whether Sunni or Shi’ite.
Most of the time, the defeat of the false messiah spells the end of the messianic movement. We want to be able to say to the Islamic world: “you installed fundamentalist regimes in Afghanistan and Iran, the one Sunni the other Shi’ite. Both failed on the most fundamental grounds: the countries were wrecked and the people hated them. They were easily overthrown, demonstrating the emptiness of their vision and the contempt of their citizens. Give up this false vision, which always leads to failure, humiliation and death. Embrace freedom and progress, which leads to success, life and happiness.”
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