Articles by MEF Staff and Fellows
Is America Winning?
With the war on terrorism now six months old, it's time to review the bidding. How goes the war? Let's grade four areas:
* Military: The bulk of the war in Afghanistan was won in two months. Trouble was, to minimize casualties, U.S. troops avoided some of the dirtier jobs, recruiting Afghans to scour caves and patrol borders. This permitted Taliban and al Qaeda leaders to escape and fight another day.
Smaller U.S. military efforts are under way in several other countries, with 600 troops in the Philippines, 400 in Yemen, several hundred in Uzbekistan, and 200 likely to arrive in the Republic of Georgia. The apparent result, Vice President Dick Cheney explains, is preventing "a sanctuary to develop someplace else and become a refuge . . . for al Qaeda."
Grade for the United States government: A.
* Counterterrorist: On the minus side, at most 5 percent of goods entering the United States undergo security inspections. Airline searches - in which dubious personnel seem to focus on the least likely suspects - remain a near-joke, as shown by Richard Reid's explosive shoes. Nuclear security is atrocious, with reports that America's 86 most sensitive nuclear power plants "fail to screen workers for terrorist ties and don't know how many foreign nationals they employ."
More farcical yet is the Immigration and Naturalization Service issuing posthumous visas to two Sept. 11 hijackers. "What's happened in the INS is enough to drive a man to drink," laments Attorney General John Ashcroft.
On the plus side, plots to destroy five U.S. embassies (France, Italy, Bosnia, Yemen and Singapore) were foiled. The Justice Department detained 1,200 suspects, the great majority of whom will be deported. It questioned 2,261 immigrants about possible ties to al Qaeda (with 3,000 more about to be interviewed) and is searching for 6,000 Middle Eastern "alien absconders."
Federal agents have closed down three Islamic "charitable" foundations, searched 21 homes and offices, and carried out more than 300 probes into terrorist finances, seizing about $15 million, making 12 arrests, and getting four indictments. The Treasury Department says it blocked "more than $34 million in terrorist assets, and other nations around the world have blocked more than $70 million." These efforts, Ashcroft claims, caused "would-be terrorists to scale back, delay or abandon their plans altogether."
Good news, but if a recent estimate of $1.7 billion in terrorist funds is accurate, much work remains.
* Diplomatic: U.S. pressure on other states to crack down on terrorism is most impressive in Pakistan, where authorities deployed border troops to arrest al Qaeda operatives, outlawed terrorist groups, dismantled Koranic schools and vowed a "merciless" campaign against terrorism.
Most remarkably, Islamabad in March let FBI and CIA officials help capture suspected al Qaeda members, including Abu Zubaydah, a top al Qaeda leader. This unprecedented step might signal a new era of U.S. global policing.
Elsewhere, diplomacy has had less effect. Malaysian police monitor mosques with unknown results. Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE have symbolically reduced terror financing within their borders. Sudan's leadership arrested al Qaeda suspects, but Washington fears that al Qaeda is now reconstituting itself in Khartoum.
Half-hearted pressure leaves Hamas and Islamic Jihad free to operate out of the Palestinian Authority, while Hezbollah remains fully operational in Lebanon. The Saudis froze the account of one terrorism funder, but Middle East Newsline reports that it "continues to tolerate the transfer of finances to al Qaeda insurgents."
* Ideological: Since Sept. 11, America has waged war against a tactic. When President Bush declared a "war against terrorism," he ignored the real enemy - militant Islam, a brutal, totalitarian ideology.
Not explicitly targeting militant Islam has been costly, hindering everything from airline security to sensible immigration policies. It renders Washington unable to explain why U.S. troops are only fighting in theatres in and around the Muslim world, or why certain Muslims warrant special attention from law enforcement. Worse, it means not identifying potential allies, especially moderate Muslims.
Overall, how goes the war? The first half-year showed some U.S. gains, but the real groundwork must still be laid if America is to win. Much toil lies ahead, starting with the ideological battle and with the diplomatic campaign not far behind.