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Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 2001 / 16 Teves, 5761

Michael Ledeen

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A fitting close to the Clinton years -- OUR FECKLESS LEADERS, the same ones who closed Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic for fear that some evil person might take a potshot at the White House, have now closed the American Embassy in Rome for fear that terrorists might do something mean. Itís a fitting close to this administrationís pretense at fighting terrorism. Ever since Ronald Reagan ó who did little enough, but far more than his successors ó our ďwarĒ on terrorism has been a war of words, not actions. Clinton contented himself with speeches and occasional gestures like sending cruise missiles against hastily-concocted targets like the aspirin factory in Khartoum, and caves in the mountains of Afghanistan. Bush, Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld are going to have to do better, because the terrorists are slowly organizing their forces, and may soon be in a position to do serious damage to us and our friends and allies.

International terrorism flourished in the seventies and eighties largely because of the active support of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin provided the terrorists with the wherewithal to conduct their murderous activities: training camps, ideological manuals, weapons, plastic explosives, forged passports and other travel documents, diplomatic pouches to secretly transport guns and bombs, and safe havens after attacks. The Soviets trained PLO terrorists, Italian Red Brigades, and Latin American killers, some directly, some through surrogates like the East German Stasi (which ran weapons to West European terrorists) and Fidelís infamous secret police.

With the defeat of the Soviet Union, the terrorists were deprived of this invaluable infrastructure, and the surviving rogue states ó North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and Iraq, along with Afghanistan under the Taliban and the wicked regime in Sudan ó had far fewer resources. That is why terrorism was less threatening in the 1990s than it had been in the recent past. To be sure, there were still tyrants who knew that terror can bend their enemiesí wills, and they continued to support terrorism on a reduced scale. A welcome infusion of capital from the renegade Saudi millionaire, Osana bin Ladin, helped replace the Soviet shortfall. But the terrorists were far more vulnerable than before; their patron states were far less threatening than the component parts of the Soviet Empire.

Had we seized our opportunity, we could probably have rid the world of at least some of the nastiest terrorists, and we had every excuse to do it: after all, Saddam sponsored an attempt to kill former President Bush. We should have gone all out to bring down his murderous regime. Instead, we lobbed a few cruise missiles at unmanned radar installations, and then later, in an act of duplicitous cowardice, we seduced and then abandoned Saddamís enemies ó the Kurds and the Iraqi National Council ó when he moved against them. And just in case anyone missed the message, Clintonís killer Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested several of the Iraqis when they sought refuge in America, and tried to send them back to Saddam for torture and death.

Along with the bombing of the aspirin factory, that pretty much sums up our anti-terrorist campaign, which is best symbolized by Clintonís hiding behind a barricaded Pennsylvania Avenue. Is there a threat to the president? Hide. Is there a threat in Rome? Close down the embassy. And Clinton unhesitatingly prods our allies to do the same. Bombings in Israel? Give more to Arafat. Worried about weapons of mass destruction in North Korea? Send Madeline to dance with the dictator in Pyongyang.

Itís not a policy, itís a joke.

None of this has been lost on the terrorists and their backers. Iran and Iraq are running substantial terrorist networks on several continents. The Caucuses have been invaded by radical Muslim terrorists from our old friends in the Hezbollah, and another tentacle has reached South America, threatening Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Our intelligence community is well aware of all this, but we are not told about it because what we donít know canít hurt the administration.

Instead of fighting the terrorists, we get William Cohen parading before Congress, waving a bag of sugar and intoning that a similar amount of chemical or biological weapons could kill millions and millions of people. True enough, but not likely. Despite all the fevered talk about biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, you still get much more bang for your buck from the old-fashioned plastic explosives. Consider that the Japanese terrorists who unleashed lethal chemicals in a Tokyo subway station a few years back were superbly trained in Moscow (many with Ph.D.s), had top-of-the-line laboratories, and still couldnít produce the desired carnage.

Weapons of mass destruction may turn out to be effective in warfare ó poison gas was quite popular in the Iran-Iraq War ó and they make for great TV and cinema, but they are devilishly difficult for terrorists to use. And while weíre dazzled by the vision of a chemical or biological holocaust, our guys are getting blown up by plastic explosives on a rubber boat in the Persian Gulf.

Our guys are getting blown up, and the bad guys are still at large. Itís quite likely that terrorists will keep on killing us and our friends, and itís only a matter of time before people start to demand that our government do something about it. Clinton & Co. is shutting down, so W. is going to have to deal with it. Heíll get lots of clever advice, but the bottom line is as simple today as it ever was: If you want to stop the terrorists, you have to attack them, and you have to bring down or at least weaken the regimes that support them. That means you have to stop dancing with them in North Korea, and you have to stop sending open love letters to them in Tehran, and you have to be serious about ridding the world of the evil regime of Saddam Hussein.

And you have to track down the terrorists and put them out of business. That means either arresting them, or doing unto them what they have done unto us, and the problem with this latter method is that it is forbidden by a long chain of executive orders, beginning with Gerald Ford. These executive orders forbid assassination, and consequently stop us from mounting armed attacks against individual terrorists, because even if our intent is to arrest them, they might not go quietly and we might have to shoot at them. As a result, we are caught between the rock of legalistic impotence (asking Interpol to arrest bin Ladin if he shows up at Heathrow Airport) and the hard place of excessive violence (we canít shoot a terrorist, but itís ok to bomb a facility we think is used to train terrorists or to produce terrorist weapons ó like the aspirin factory), virtually guaranteeing the deaths of innocents.

A president who is serious about fighting terrorism will abrogate the blanket prohibition against assassination, and work with congressional leaders to agree on effective action against those who have killed Americans.

And a president who is serious about fighting terrorism should begin by showing the world that we wonít be intimidated by them. Open Pennsylvania Avenue to the people, and make sure the Marine Guards on the Via Veneto in Rome have live ammunition.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clintonís gift for Bush

© 2000, Michael Ledeen