When it comes to our progress in the war on terror, it’s clear why the Democrats and their friends in the media only want to carry on about how the decision to go to war in Iraq was made and how allegedly unprepared we were for the occupation. The far bigger story of what has been accomplished since 9/11, as outlined by a senior Bush-administration official, effectively makes the case that the world is demonstrably safer owing to actions taken by the United States. The official’s comments also make clear that the White House intends to shatter the illusions of a peaceful past and forcefully make its case about the need for resolute attention to the dangers that continue to confront us.
In a discussion today, the official contrasted the threatening situation in existence before 9/11 with the still-present but steadily reduced threat we now face. When President Bush took office, the Taliban was hosting al Qaeda training camps, with an estimated 20,000 graduates in the late 1990s. Saddam was a “continuing threat” to his neighbors and the world, and we faced “a serious proliferation problem, especially in [the] nuclear area that involved, we believed, Libya, Iran, based on past experience, Iraq, and North Korea certainly.”
On Wednesday at the National Defense University, President Bush talked about how important it is to have put Abdul Qadeer Khan’s network out of business. We know that the Pakistani scientist was supplying Libya with centrifuges and peddled his wares through a factory in Malaysia that has now been shut down. There is some speculation that Khan was working with Iran. According to the official, Khan “constituted a major, major threat” and other “key individuals are in custody in certain places.” It was pointed out that U.S. intelligence “knew a lot about the Khan network and had been working the problem for a long time.” It was cited as an example of the kind of intelligence success that doesn’t get sufficient attention.
Al Qaeda, Saddam, and Khan were all freely operating three years ago. Then came 9/11, and it was clear that the United States had “no effective strategy for dealing with terror.” The threat they posed was dealt with by ineffectual international accords and the attacks al Qaeda carried out were treated as a law-enforcement problem.
The bombing of the Beirut barracks in 1983, the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center–”the first al Qaeda attack on the U.S mainland”–and the bombings at the Khobar Towers and on the USS Cole showed terrorists that they “can launch attacks against the United States with relative impunity, there wouldn’t be a significant price to pay.” Then came “an event that changed everything.”
The attacks on 9/11 revealed “our vulnerabilities and an awareness on the part of the American people that what we faced was more like war than criminal acts.” The official explained, “We learned in the aftermath that terrorists are committed to trying to obtain deadlier weapons and we have every reason to believe if they are ever successful in acquiring that capability, they will use it.” This is the present danger that now receives the daily concentrated attention of the administration. The official talked about the prospect of “an al Qaeda cell in one of our cities with a deadlier weapon than ever before–a biological or nuclear device.”
The Taliban is gone from Afghanistan and “enormous damage” has been done to al Qaeda there. Over 500 members of al Qaeda have been “wrapped up” in Pakistan, and an Iraqi regime with its “record of weapons of mass destruction and its established relationship with al Qaeda…a sanctuary for terrorists” is gone. Clearly American leadership was crucial in reducing these threats. As the official pointed out, when Khaddafi decided to give up his weapons of mass destruction, “he didn’t call the U.N. or the IAEA…he got a hold of George Bush and Tony Blair.”
Finally, it was explained that the depth of repression and fear in Iraq, especially suffered by the Shia in the south, was underestimated. Given their experience with the brutal suppression of their uprising following the Gulf War, the senior official expects that many Shia didn’t think the U.S. would invade Iraq, doubted we would stay, and feared that Saddam would return. The office stressed that it is important to meet the June 30 deadline for transfer of authority to an interim Iraqi government and he welcomes the U.N.’s role in assisting with the handoff. He explained that all parties involved want to see elections and have differences only over how soon they could take place. The administration attributes good motives to Ayatollah al-Sistani, whose role as the leading Shia cleric is very significant.
The official stated, “We’ve dealt very effectively with some very difficult problems,” although he didn’t want to underestimate the remaining challenges we face. The challenge for Democrats is to avoid talking about the progress the administration has made in meeting threats they haven’t the foggiest idea about how to handle.