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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2001 / 14 Tishrei, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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A question of priorities -- HOW are we going to win this war? How are we going to deal with an irrational, vengeful, and elusive global enemy embedded in unknown numbers at home and abroad, with an array of modern, mobile weapons, distorting their religion to suggest G-d permits a massacre of the innocents and suicide is a passport to heaven? Reason has no role with the irrational. We have to destroy them. We cannot do that by massive military force. Nor can we simply flail at shadows.

First, we must reassess our national priorities. No. 1 now is to protect the homeland, to understand clearly that terrorist threats are not a transient menace but the primary national security challenge for the new century. The appointment of Tom Ridge is a solid beginning. But it's no good appointing a czar who is a mere coordinator of bureaucracies. He must have real power. Congress must insist on it.

The second priority is immediate and direct action against al Qaeda. That organization's assets must be seized. We must urge all countries to act swiftly to identify and destroy any cells established by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda agents, along with those of other groups like Islamic Jihad.

Priority No. 3 is a serious expansion of the funding and operational capabilities of our intelligence services. They must be given the wherewithal to strike at terrorist networks no matter how they try to hide in the world's shadows. We must seek a genuine sharing of intelligence with other international intelligence services and recruit a reliable network of human intelligence agents throughout the Middle East. These must be people not merely fluent in Arabic but steeped in the region's language, culture, and politics.

The right to strike. This will take time-time and the same kind of vigilance and resolve that enabled us to prevail in the Cold War against Moscow. Fortunately, the CIA has an outstanding director in George Tenet. Congress must offer him and his agency not just funding support but the right to strike at terrorists and their sponsors. Those who fight terror must be free to do what is necessary to forestall these killers. Surprise is key. Our operatives must not be hobbled by tedious legal review. This is not to advocate a policy of indiscriminate assassination or revenge but one of self-defense-of pre-emptive action against those our leaders conclude are mortal dangers. A terrorist operation may well be disrupted when its planners fear death and flee, for their efforts will be directed more toward survival, less toward attack. It worked in World War II. Now millions are in peril again.

Nor can we hold back until we remove the so-called root causes of terrorism, alleged to be poverty and despair. The plight of people in states that sanction terror is caused by the corruption of their leadership, not by us. Terrorists typically favor totalitarian states, and totalitarianism always means squalor and decay.

It cannot be said too often that terrorist acts are evil. They deserve no "explaining." How does one explain a depravity that rejoices in the murder of men, women, and children of so many different races and beliefs as those who perished in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Nothing justifies terrorism. It's as simple as that. For terrorists, violence is not a weapon of last resort. It is their weapon of choice. Murder-suicide is a measure of their fanaticism, not of their desperation. There can be no accommodation for this kind of evil.

But these madmen cannot survive without the support of certain regimes and organizations. We know who they are. They have addresses: Iran, Iraq, Syria, the Taliban, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezbollah, Sudan.

The rhetoric that Arab and Muslim leaders use to legitimize terrorism and the climate inspired by the hate that pervades their state media, where suicide bombers are lionized as martyrs, are no longer tolerable. States that succor terrorists must become pariahs and, if necessary, military targets.

The previous administration failed to convey that message adequately. Its policy was tantamount to waiting for the terrorists to grow weary and go away. It failed. We have kept our immigration doors open to treachery. We have welcomed too many Muslim and Arab-American leaders associated with fundraisers for terrorist organizations like Hamas while conferring on terrorist organizations like the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization the imprimatur of legitimacy. We literally did not hold them accountable for their actions, earning in return their contempt, moving them to ever bolder acts of violence.

We must not fear to use our power. Rather, we must instill fear in the terrorists or live in fear ourselves, for our freedoms and technologies enhance our vulnerability. When those freedoms are combined with the technologies of remote-control bombs or biological weapons or cyberassaults, not just thousands but hundreds of thousands of people are at risk. So we must resolve. The stakes are simply too high for America to risk losing the first war of the 21st century.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman