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Anthony Lake, assistant to former President Clinton on national security affairs from 1993 to 1997, is currently professor of diplomacy at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. With a BA from Harvard University and a PhD from Princeton University, Mr. Lake served for eight years as an official in the State Department, including a stint as director of policy planning under President Carter. He has written six books on foreign affairs including Six Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How the U.S. Can Meet Them (Little Brown, 2000). Mr. Lake spoke to the Middle East Forum in an event co-sponsored by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF about America's challenges in the war on terror on March 21, 2002.
Existential Terrorism

Ten to 15 years ago, the point of most terror was to reach a political goal. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Irish Republican Army (IRA) are examples of such groups. Much has changed. Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called "Unabomber," said in his diary, "I don't believe in anything. I simply want revenge." In this spirit, terrorism today is not aimed at achieving a particular goal so much as simply lashing out in personal, political, or religious hatred directed at the hated modern world. The terrorism America faces today, in other words, is largely existential terror.

Directly or indirectly, globalization has elicited a reaction in which local cultures react against the values of democracy and individual choice, including the separation of church and state.

Despite the fact that Usama bin Laden has a goal— expelling American influence from the Middle East—he is in many ways an existential terrorist. He is not using terrorism to strike some sort of deal, and there is no way to deter or sway him from his objectives. This is a fight to the finish.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Terrorists today often act anonymously and without political goals. Because the purpose is often simply to destroy, they are more inclined to seek weapons of mass destruction (WMD). And because they haven't a political goal, they have no reason to care about a political backlash after the destruction.

While America has begun to deal with the possibility of terrorists using WMD, it hasn't done enough. There are now 27 states with WMD. Some of them are rogue regimes. Others may have lax security and allow the weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists.

Nightmare scenarios now include the use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. It might also include the use of so-called "dirty" bombs, consisting of radioactive waste wrapped around conventional explosives, which might not initially kill many people, but can be used to create dangerous radioactive zones.

Another often-ignored weapon of potential mass destruction is the computer. Americans tend to think that computer attacks consist of simply hacking into sites, but computer attacks can kill. There are an estimated 5,000 critical sites in the U.S. that, if illegally modified, could have devastating human consequences. Computer attacks might alter hospital records, infant food formulas, airplane coordinates, and other targets. What makes these attacks particularly daunting is the accessibility that everybody has to computers. While it is difficult to produce anthrax, any computer user could be a potential terrorist.

Globalization and Terrorism

Globalization makes conditions easier for terrorists to build weapons of mass destruction. For example, recipes for chemical weapons, including government documents, are available online. Increased traffic across borders poses another vulnerability. It has recently come to light that U.S. borders are far more porous than they used to be. At most, 5 percent of all containers coming into the United States are inspected. It is not necessary to build a missile to attack Americans when one can send components via Federal Express with a better than 95 percent chance that the package will not be inspected.

In an increasingly wired world, terrorists can also more easily communicate through the internet. Accordingly, it's easier to organize links with other criminal groups and exchange resources like arms, money, or drugs. Additionally, it is easier to launder money.

Counterterror and Intelligence

It is increasingly difficult for the U.S. intelligence community to track terrorist groups. Due to the high and growing volume of electronic messages transmitted throughout the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies to monitor messages sent by terrorists.

The intelligence gathering process consists of piecing together fragments of information to predict the future. It is not tantamount to looking for a needle in a haystack, but for the right three or four pieces of hay in a haystack that will add up to a prediction of a terrorist attack. Further, the haystack is rapidly getting larger because of fiber optics.

Democracy and Islam

The fundamental purpose of Islam is the creation of a just society here on earth. Taken literally, there cannot therefore be a separation of church and state. For an Islamist, politics are shaped by the word of God and not by the sum total of the individual choices made by citizens in society.

Islamists hate America because of what it stands for, more than what it does. The temptation of the American way of life threatens individuals like Usama bin Laden, as does its prosperity and its freedoms.

Democracy and Islam, however, can coexist. The West must now look to moderate voices in the Muslim world working to reconcile them. The moderates are in a struggle with Islamists for the soul of Islam; the former can win but they need America's help.

Globalization and Islam

As globalization proceeds, the Muslim world finds it cannot modernize without the Western values that accompany its innovations. Individual choice, entrepreneurship, independent thought, separation of church and state, and scientific discoveries are all inherently part of modern economies. Indeed, they are required components. It is impossible to separate these elements from globalization. In this sense, "globalization" and "Westernization" are inseparable, even if some would wish to have the former without the latter.

Defeating Terrorism

While we are in a fight to the finish with terrorist leaders, we can work to influence potential followers, who are angry at living under autocratic regimes with failed economies; at the lack of social, economic, and political opportunity; and at the lack of progress in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. So, defeating terrorism takes not only military operations; it also requires addressing these sources of discontent. Accordingly, the U.S. government needs to do the following:
  • Fight the poverty that helps to create the dangerous despair found in the Muslim world. With minimal financial contributions, for example, many health problems in the region could be greatly reduced.
  • Be careful when making deals with governments in return for their cooperation in the war on terrorism. Do not endorse the policies of regimes that help foster terrorism, do not look the other way when they teach anti-Western venom.
  • Promote democracy by supporting democratic reformers.
  • Do not overindulge in rhetoric that can dismay allies, reformers, and moderates.
  • Stay engaged in Middle Eastern diplomacy.
The war against the terrorist leaders will take a long time, and the struggle for the soul of Islam will take time to resolve. This is a strategic moment. The patterns America sets now in diplomacy will have resonance inthe future.

A New Kind of War

Difficult issues will continually create new debates and new problems. For their part, Americans do their country a service by engaging in debate over the decisions facing their leadership today.

Perhaps more importantly, American citizens should debate issues surrounding our domestic civil liberties. Circumscribing certain civil liberties may be an effective means to fight terrorism, but each restriction must be debated because it could last well into the future.

This war will undoubtedly last a long time. Therefore, we Americans must be persistent and patient. I am confident we will rise to the occasion, as we always have in the past.

Summary account by Gil Marder, research associate of the Middle East Forum.