The threat of devastating terroristattacks targeting Americans still is very real despite the near-hysterical,though unsubstantiated, warnings of al-Qaida’s plans to strike at everythingfrom banks to grocery stores.
Based on intelligence found inAfghanistan, 15 people were arrested in Singapore for planning to bomb the U.S.Embassy, American business interests, and buses shuttling U.S. servicemen. TheU.S. Embassy in Yemen was recently the target of an al-Qaida bombing plot.Terror suspects plotting attacks have recently been arrested in Germany, Spain,Bosnia and England.
Richard Reid came alarmingly close toblowing up an airliner on the way to the United States. In his State of theUnion address, President Bush warned that thousands of terrorists are»spread throughout the world like ticking bombs.»
While the objective of eradicating theTaliban and al-Qaida and securing a stable transition to peace in Afghanistanis clear, the goals of the broader war on terrorism, beyond those twoorganizations, remain ill-defined.
There are still those who have difficultydefining who is a terrorist beyond al-Qaida. Washington policymakers for sometime have been discussing phase two of the war — that is, eliminating the realand immediate Iraqi threat to the United States and its allies. But theparameters and tactics of phase 1 1/2 — dealing with the rest of the terroristgroups — are still being debated.
It is vital that the internationalcommunity define the war on terrorism. But not in terms of specific terroristgroups, ethnicities, religions or regions. Rather, it should be defined as awar against terrorism for any reason — as a means of expression, rebellion,resistance or to further a political, social, national or any other goal.
President Bush made a groundbreakingstatement in November when he said that no grievance, however legitimate,sanctions terrorist attacks against civilians.
«In this world, there are good causesand bad causes, and we may disagree on where that line is drawn,» he said.»Yet there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration,no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Anygovernment that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terroristfriends, will know the consequences.»
International terrorism knows noboundaries, and terrorist groups of global reach are intimately interconnected,so much so that their common agendas bridge even traditional divisions such asthose between Shiite and Sunni extremists. Iran and its terrorist proxy groups,particularly Hezbollah, are connected not only to Palestinian terrorist groupsbut also to groups associated with al-Qaida, like Asbat al-Ansar, and,according to an increasing number of reports, directly to al-Qaida elements aswell.
The need to live up to the grandstatements about this being a war on terrorism writ large is critical. Historyshows that an even greater risk to the global community will emerge if worldleaders fail to live up to their pledges to fight terrorism. Such a failurewill doom future pleas to end terror to be nothing more than diplomaticbackground noise.
More ominously, how long will it take forthe acceptance of suicide bombing as a legitimate form of expression orresistance — even for a cause as legitimate as the establishment of aPalestinian state — to make its way from the Middle East to other corners ofthe world? How long before frustrated groups with stagnating causes blow upbuses in Europe or North America?
Terrorism will always exist, which is whythere is no exit strategy to fighting it. Counterterrorism is a form ofconflict management, not conflict resolution. To bear any fruit,counterterrorism techniques must be used as comprehensively, consistently andcooperatively as possible.
The war on terrorism will only succeed indismantling terrorist groups’ operational, logistical and financial networks –and, by extension, preventing terrorist attacks — if the governments andagencies involved act in concert and if they fight on all its fronts, in allits iterations.
Any terrorism we fail to address todaywill come back to haunt us tomorrow. There can be no acceptableterrorism.