- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2001

Hats off to President Bush. He has articulately stirred our convictions, stilled our fears, strengthened our determination and steered the nation on heady headwaters of a treacherous river. The War Against Terrorism will be grueling and he has stiffened our national spine for the fight.

Hats still on, however, to both the media and U.S. Senate. Missing has been leadership on three key issues. Without confronting them directly, the president's initiative will require twice the effort and deliver half the results. These issues are undercurrents that affect the way this war will be fought and the speed with which it may be won.

Uncovered story No. 1 is this: Despite a threat as palpable and evil as that posed by the Axis in World War II, this enemy is not motivated by acquisition of land, deep historic differences in culture, or even religion. These are foils.

Palestine is not Osama bin Laden's life's pursuit. Pan-Arab, Pro-Afghani or anti-capitalist fervor do not light his fuse. He is not listening to other Arabs, not fond of Afghanis, and has made plenty of money himself in the world's capital markets. Nor is Islam, in fact, his true prime directive.

No, the first uncovered story is that bin Laden is no more or less than the wealthy leader of a classic pseudo-religious cult. The cult is one of death and resentment, of murder in the name of that which will drive uneducated and unsuspecting young Arabs, in particular, to early graves. He is taken with power, with a messianic self-coined religiosity that smacks of Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitism, but also of David Koresh's self-proclaimed apocalyptic vision of himself and where he would drive his followers.

Bin Laden cares little for those he leads, nimbly bending the Koran and its orthodox past to his own newly conceived ends. He plays on the resentment that naturally attaches to poverty and adversity among some. He pours into that vessel his own self-adulating rules and proclamations, and is swift to recognize that the absence of peace in the decades-old Israeli-Arab conflict radiating from Jerusalem is a perfect lure for those who want, somehow, to see action and place blame.

But be clear. This is not an Army of God, or of Arabs united in hatred of the West or even of Afghanis or unified fill-in-the-blank ethnic minorities. This is a cult of those who undergo intense brainwashing in remote locations, ebbing on command into the wider world, re-reading the brainwashing to themselves, sadly hopeful on a rendezvous with 60 black-eyed virgins, until they can complete the programmed killing that their cult asks of indeed inspires in them. Call this a cult, and its dimensions will be better understood.

Second story missed: The primary source of funds for virtually all terrorist organizations the world over, from the Middle East to South America, from Southern Europe to cell nests in the United States, from the Colombian FARC and ELN to Afghanistan's al Qaeda is the shipment and encouragement of ever-wider Western drug consumption. Heroin and hashish built the House of bin Laden. Cocaine, heroin and marijuana built the House of Escobar in Colombia, and of the Fuentes brothers in Mexico. The Turkish PKK and Albanian KLA, and virtually every terrorist group afoot today, derive the overwhelming majority of their backing from the sale of illegal drugs. This can be stopped.

But when we turn our backs on the devastation, at home and abroad, wrought by such drugs and many have indulged this impulse in the past decade we consign ourselves to the financing of terror. What terror? The terror meted out by the bin Ladens and Escobars of the world, and the other terror: Losing children whose lives are precious, and preservable.

One way to accelerate the U.S. response to drug-funded terrorism is to fully fund the president's request for counternarcotics aid to beat drug-funded South American terrorism; only the U.S. House can now save the U.S. Senate from itself on this issue. Time is short, but it matters.

Missed story No. 3: The Osprey or V-22 is now probably the silver bullet that operationally would allow U.S. forces to reliably get in and out of Afghanistan in large numbers if the war continues, as it likely will. Like it or not, America is hard-pressed to field large numbers of Marines in aging CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters; the untold truth is that we cannot long deploy vast numbers of troops in this antiquated airframe.

Needed now is a flight-tested airframe that flies like both plane and helicopter, avoiding triple-A fire at recordbreaking speeds, while offering quick, safe, in-and-out troop delivery. If any war was proof of the need for rapid deployment of the V-22, this is the one. If the U.S. Senate does not now see the need clearly, future losses of U.S. lives could be on their heads. Asymmetric threats require effective, flexible, responsive and asymmetric answers. The wisdom of the V-22 is now plain, as plain as the true nature of al Qaeda and the drug financing of this brutal enemy.

While no V-22 should be deployed without complete testing, even one day's delay is no longer justifiable. We must seize our advantages, wring out any remaining bugs, and bring America's "tilt-rotor" war-fighting advantage to the field.

If these three stories seem stark, they are. But minimal coverage minimizes their importance, and they each deserve "hats off" coverage. With that coverage, should come legislation that takes account of these new realities and swiftly.

Robert B. Charles was chief counsel and chief of staff to the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security (1995-1999), chief staffer to the House Speaker's Task Force on Drugs (1997-1999), and led the Waco hearings in 1995.


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