‘The Lights Are Blinking Red, Mr. President’

by James Jay Carafano

This infamous warning, made famous by the 9/11 Commission, reminds us that Washington should take seriously the messages its enemies are sending. Today’s horrific bombing in Mumbai comes hot on the heels of the recent attack on a prominent hotel in Kabul and Tuesday’s assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai in Kandahar. These may or may not be parts of an orchestrated campaign. But either way, they are all red flags suggesting that President Obama’s new counterterrorism strategy is all wrong.

This new strategy basically reduces America’s focus to playing “whack-a-mole” with a few dozen high-level al-Qaeda operatives. Meanwhile, the president is telegraphing a premature exit from Afghanistan, a tragic course of action that could well lead to the next 9/11.

These recent events show what is wrong with Obama’s plans. First, transnational terror groups, like the ones who likely perpetrated the attacks in Kabul and Mumbai, have common cause. They cooperate with each other and have each other’s backs. Just focusing on al-Qaeda won’t cut it. It would be like going after Al Capone and ignoring Frank Nitti.

Second, the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai (whether the Taliban engineered it or not) shows that the gains in Afghanistan are reversible. By cutting back now, the president makes finishing the job harder. It will probably mean more U.S. casualties. And in the end we could fail, leaving the Taliban the space to reestablish sanctuaries in Afghanistan and giving al-Qaeda the option of deciding on which side of the border it wants to spend its weekends. That bodes ill for the future. More than half the attacks aimed at the U.S. since 9/11 originated with individuals who trained at or worked with individuals schooled in terrorist training camps.

Third, the terrorists are not taking their defeats lying down. Mumbai has become a terrorist proving ground for trying out new tactics and techniques. The 2008 armed assault tactics have already been emulated elsewhere, most notably Kabul. The recent multiple bombings in Mumbai will no doubt be repeated again. Some of the transnational groups behind these attacks have also sworn to come after the United States.

Now is not the time to declare “mission accomplished” in the terror war. Now is the time to put our efforts into overdrive.

— James Jay Carafano is director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

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