- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

Historians will look back on the year 2002 as the start of a long war on terrorism. What is likely to be their judgement and what remains to be done?
The war extremist Islam declared on America and its allies has had three phases. During the last three months of 2001, America did considerable damage to al Qaeda's physical and human infrastructure in Afghanistan. This led to the dispersal of al Qaeda's forces and the disruption of its command and control capabilities.
In the second phase, January to September 2002, the West concentrated on intense intelligence and law-enforcement cooperation. Some 2,500 terrorists were arrested around the world. Terrorist finances were tracked and seized. Several attacks were thwarted. While al Qaeda and its sympathizers broadened their targets to include French and Germans, their attacks lacked the sophistication characteristic of the group's previous efforts.
The third phase began in September with al Qaeda's complex and well-planned attacks in Bali and Mombasa and the suicide bombing of a French tanker. These show that the organization has had some success in reconstituting its operations. Thousands of trained killers are still at large, and there is evidence that the terrorists continue to probe for weak spots in our defenses.
What are the implications for America's policy?
First, we must be clear about what we are up against. Al Qaeda's leaders propound an extreme vision of an Islam inevitably at war with the West. Their fatwas, interviews and statements over the past decade make clear that their ultimate goal is nothing less than the conversion, by force if necessary, of the entire world to their warped version of Islam. For this vision, they are prepared to die and to kill thousands or millions of Westerners.
A civil war within Islam pits these extremists against moderate Muslims who wish to reconcile their ancient faith with the modern world. Obviously, America has a strategic interest in the moderates winning.
Secondly, this struggle is not about Israel and Palestine. To argue that America must "reengage" in the "peace process" as a way of dealing with the "root causes" of Islamic extremism is fundamentally to misunderstand the nature of the new terrorist threat. All of al Qaeda's attacks and plots against American targets in the past decade took place while there was an ongoing "peace process" in which the American government of the day was fully engaged. Even the September 11 attack was planned during that period. Not until December 2001 did Osama bin Laden think to mention any concern over the plight of the Palestinians, and then only as a transparent effort to broaden his appeal in the Muslim world.
Third lesson: This fight cannot be won on the defensive. Naturally, we should take every possible step to improve our defenses. But there are literally hundreds of thousands of possible targets. The terrorists have only to attack the weakest-defended.
So we must go on the offensive. To be blunt, we have to kill the terrorists before they kill us. This requires first-rate intelligence. But the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism, which I was honored to chair, reported almost three years ago that our intelligence capabilities abroad and at home have seriously deteriorated.
There are dedicated and competent people in the CIA and FBI. But over the years, the culture of each organization has become risk-adverse. With the best of will, this will take years to correct.
America must take four steps to continue the fight against extremist terrorism. First, we must kill off or capture al Qaeda leaders. Some people argue that the leaders will merely be replaced by others. But this is a counsel of despair denied by experience. Decapitating a terrorist group is a very effective first step to destroying it. We must be relentless seeking out these killers.
Secondly, we must urgently reform our intelligence agencies. Without good intelligence, we are thrown back on the defensive and effectively have to wait until terrorists attack before responding. But in an age of super-terrorism, where the killers want to commit mass murder, waiting for an attack is politically and morally unacceptable. And America needs a new domestic counter-terrorist intelligence agency that can root out the terrorists living among us while respecting civil liberties.
Next, we need to establish a robust homeland security capability. This will force enormous organizational and cultural changes on reluctant bureaucracies at the federal, state and local levels. Secretary-designate Tom Ridge should avoid these distractions, and instead issue a 100-day action plan to launch urgently needed programs in border and port security, health care and critical infrastructure protection. Bureaucratic form will follow substance, not the other way around.
Finally, this is the year to deal with state sponsors of terrorism. We need to keep the terrorists on the run, deny them the benefits of having state sponsors-safe houses, training camps, false travel documents, money, etc. Regime change in Iraq, long a sponsor of terror, would be an excellent way to bring home to friends and foes that we are serious about terrorism and show that opposing the United States has a high cost.

L. Paul Bremer III was ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism in the Reagan administration. He is the chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism and the chairman and CEO of Marsh Crisis Consulting.

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