- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The United States is waging a global war against terror and is perilously close to embarking on a second war against Saddam Hussein and his regime. The sound and fury of the coming weeks will focus on Saddam, when war will start and how it may end. But what about the global war on terror? How is it going?
First, tens of thousands of determined Americans, teaming with many others, are hard at work hunting down al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and placing as many barriers and defenses as possible against further attacks. However, to most Americans, the war against terrorism has taken a back seat to Iraq. In some ways, the situation can be likened to Europe in 1939 after Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany gobbled up Poland that September.
War was declared. The Nazis garrisoned the western border of Germany. The allies took up defensive positions in France and Belgium. And both sides waited. In Paris, Brussels and London, the allies believed the standoff would be a World War I-like stalemate. Safe behind the Maginot Line, France felt impregnable. And Britain's Royal Navy ruled the seas.
For nearly 9 months, a "phony war" as it was called (or Sitzkreig in German slang) lulled the allies. Then, in the spring of 1940, Hitler's Blitzkrieg sliced through the Netherlands, Belgium and the dense Ardennes Forest, bypassing the Maginot Line and driving the Allies into the sea. Indeed, the Maginot Line was never breached by German forces. But that made no difference. Hitler controlled Western Europe.
Today's question is whether, perhaps due to the focus on Iraq and to the inherently difficult task of uncovering, penetrating and destroying terror cells, a new "phony war" has broken out. That does not mean that, as in Europe in 1939, many are not preparing for the worst. Nor does it mean terror plots have not and will not be foiled in advance. But the notion of a phony war does underscore the dangers of complacency.
Informed Americans of both the political left and right are pleading for greater urgency in understanding the danger the United States faces from extremists loyal to a cause, not a country, and who are prepared to kill themselves in the process. The ultimate nightmare is an attack with biological or nuclear agents that does many times more damage than the destruction of September 11, 2001. And as people may forget, just two years ago, the National Security Strategy Commission/21st Century predicted a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction would occur in the United States within 25 years. Their prophecy was long of the mark by more than 24 years with the destruction of New York's Twin Towers and the anthrax attacks.
Recently, conservatives such as Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, and James Woolsey, former CIA director, and men of the center left such as Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, have added their voices to the need for urgency in facing up to these challenges. Mr. Woolsey of course sees these solution going through Baghdad. But the ultimate nightmare is the same.
For those old enough to recall World War II, in those days, the nation was mobilized for war. Men were drafted in huge numbers to fight in a military that would grow 12 million strong. Millions of women took up work in defense production plants replacing men and filling the demands of war. There was rationing of food, gasoline and automobiles. But how many of us today can even remember the color of those ration books or how the nation reacted to a real state of war?
Clearly, Iraq is the larger priority for the moment. However, the global war on terror cannot be allowed to become a phony war, bred by complacency and the absence of new outrages to rally responses. It is here that the Bush administration has a large amount of work left. Educating and informing the public are the best tools at hand.
Has anyone seen a single government publication that attempts to educate or inform the public on or about the dangers of extremism and terror, their roots, who the likely culprits are and what can be done? Newspapers, magazines and the evening news broadcasts skirt around the dangers with sound bites and headlines understandably lacking depth and breadth. But where is the government?
No one is suggesting a ministry of propaganda be formed. But an informed public is vital to a vibrant democracy. Someone in the White House needs to take on this task. The war against terror is far from phoney and far from over. But how many Americans consciously believe that and demand greater action? Another September 11 is too high a price to pay for complacency.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times and is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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