- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

If anyone wonders why the executive branch has become so dominant in the American system of government, he need only look at the Congress. A year after the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor, homeland security legislation and the 2003 defense budget whose fiscal year started Oct. 1 are tied up in petty partisan politics.
The emphasis that some Democrats have put on the United Nations in regard to Iraq is another abdication of leadership. It is tantamount to saying Congress should contract out decisions to foreign governments in Paris or Moscow or Beijing. The U.N. is not an autonomous authority, only a meeting place for the conduct of traditional diplomacy between nation-states. Not every state will join the U.S. coalition to liberate Iraq, but enough will to get the job done.
The Democrats have made one argument that has resonated well: that the U.S. should not shift its priorities from the war against terrorism to a war to topple the dictatorship in Iraq. Former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. David Bonior of Michigan have made headlines with this argument, but it is only a variation on the theme Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, used just after September 11 when he called for a shift of money out of national missile defense to fund anti-terrorism. Mr. Levin opposes both missile defense and an attack on Iraq.
The American people are naturally more concerned about terrorism than about Saddam Hussein; but statesmen and strategists should take a larger view. The most important thing to remember about terrorism is that it is the weapon of the weak. Unlike the Pearl Harbor attack, September 11 was not followed by a surge of enemy conquests across vast areas of the world like those launched by the Japanese. Al Qaeda is not a major actor with the resources to upset the global balance of power.
Osama bin Laden did have a long-term plan to change the Middle East. Terror would drive a decadent U.S. out of the region. Then, he could overthrow those Muslim states that had cooperated with Washington. His focus was on the conquest of territory and on regime changes that could mobilize the much greater resources needed to conduct successive rounds of war.
Terrorism has its origins in unstable conditions and in the ambitions of those who want to exploit that instability for their own ends. Bin Laden's dream of empire was mad, but if the U.S. had withdrawn from the region in fear, Iraq would have been poised to exploit the vacuum.
U.S. strategy has sought to remain militarily engaged overseas in order to shape world events in ways that minimize threats to American security. When Mr. Bush first came into office, there was a desire to cut back on overseas operations because of the strain it was putting on U.S. military forces, which had been cut by more than a third since the 1991 Gulf war. The September 11 attacks reminded the Bush administration of the need to stay engaged on a global basis.
According to the legendary Confederate raider John Mosby, "The military value of a partisan's work is not measured by the amount of property destroyed or the number of men killed or captured, but by the number he keeps watching."
Partisan warfare is an order of magnitude above terrorism, which is the lowest rung of the conflict ladder. Terrorism is an asymmetrical tactic born of frustration with America's overall military superiority. That superiority could be jeopardized if the U.S. overreacts to the threat of terrorism and shifts so many resources to "watching" that it loses the ability to act decisively against larger threats. Every terrorist group, rogue state and would-be peer rival hopes Washington will make that mistake.
If there is a need to expand domestic security personnel to conduct wider investigations or protect possible targets, then the appropriate federal, state and local agencies should recruit and train people for these duties.
They should not look to the reassignment of military resources away from the combat missions for which they are needed. With the exception of air/missile defense and border/coast guard duties, conventional military forces are ill-suited for the homeland security mission, which depends on police work.
Overseas, the war on terrorism is being conducted by American agents and special operations units working with foreign police and intelligence networks.
In his address to the 2002 graduates of West Point, President Bush declared "the gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology." These are the weapons of rogue states, not ad hoc terrorist groups (though states might arm terrorists with them). That is why Iraq looms so large. How the confrontation with Baghdad turns out will either deter other states from working on similar weapons, or encourage them in thinking the U.S. is a paper tiger.
The U.S. needs to expand the size of its military, especially the ground troops necessary to effect political change. It needs to reverse the continuing decline in the size of the Navy whose warships and Marines are always the first on the scene in a crisis. The U.S. also needs to expand its overseas basing of forces to speed their deployment, facilitate coalition-building and strengthen deterrence.
Unfortunately, budget priorities still have defense spending at a level of national output more in tune with the isolationism of the 1930s than with the world leadership America exercises in the 21st century. If Washington falters on the world stage, then Osama bin Laden will have won.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.


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