- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The highly touted September 11 commission report gyrates between blather and naivete in its concoctions to defeat international terrorism. On that score, the best seller misleads the public about the moral complexities and knottiness of foreign relations. It is no counterterrorism bible.

The report elaborates the obvious — namely, that al Qaeda and companion terrorist organizations operate across national boundaries to plan and to perpetrate their abominations. Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Germany, for instance, were all implicated in the September 11 attacks. Accordingly, the report owlishly concludes the United States should seek to deny foreign sanctuaries to terrorist groups, especially in “failed states” earmarked by anemic sovereign control over their peoples and territory.

But why tilt at windmills? The idea of denying sanctuaries and making terrorists international outlaws enjoys universal support within the U.S. government. Execution is the difficulty, about which the report is worthless.

Imagine that you are the president of the United States. You crave a blueprint to insure that no foreign nation becomes a haven for terrorists. The report insipidly recommends: “The U.S. government must identify and prioritize actual or potential terrorist sanctuaries. For each, it should have a realistic strategy to keep possible terrorists insecure and on the run, using all elements of national power. We should reach out, listen to, and work with other countries that can help.”

The president, however, needs no commission advice to prefer the realistic over the unrealistic or to collaborate with countries that can help as opposed to countries that cannot. Furthermore, the report leaves the president clueless as to the combination of national powers that should be utilized to prevent or to eliminate terrorist-friendly territory.

Take Somalia, which the report lists as an attractive terrorist base because of its endemic lawlessness and skeletal central government. Should the United States militarily occupy and govern Somalia to prevent terrorist plotting despite the previous humanitarian intervention fiasco? Should Somalia’s ports be quarantined? Should the United States recognize the rump states of Puntland and Somaliland in the northeast and northwest that have been carved out of Somalia in exchange for pledges to cooperate in fighting global terrorism? These questions are the staples of counterterrorism policy, yet are bypassed by the September 11 commission.

It descends a few feet from the clouds to address Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Regarding the former, the report applauds President Pervez Musharraf, who vaulted into power by a military coup, for muscular measures against al Qaeda and Islamic extremists. Al Qaeda has twice attempted assassinations of Mr. Musharraf, but he has remained unflinching. More than 500 al Qaeda and Taliban members have been arrested, and the Pakistani army has been dispatched into frontier provinces and tribal territories, the suspected hideouts of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. The September 11 commission declares that “Musharraf’s government represents the best hope for stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” despite its one-man rule and domestic convulsions. It additionally asserts that “[t]he constant refrain of Pakistanis is that the United States long treated them as allies of convenience. As the United States makes fresh commitments now, it should make promises it is prepared to keep, for years to come.”

Mr. Musharraf’s lack of democratic credentials and thin popular legitimacy, however, has thwarted hopes to revamp hundreds of madrassahs indoctrinating children with Islamic fanaticism and hatred of the United States. Mr. Musharraf has been similarly frustrated in eliciting cooperation in remote tribal areas to apprehend al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists or sympathizers. The September 11 report never explains why a democratic alternative to Mr. Musharraf would be either chimerical or inferior in combating Islamic terrorism.

It elsewhere chides the United States during the Cold War for collaborating with repressive, non-democratic regimes to garner “short-term gains” that “were too often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.” But the report mocks its own instruction in saluting Mr. Musharraf while simultaneously urging the United States to stand apart from Muslim governments that dishonor widespread political participation, the rule of law, openness in discussing differences and tolerance for opposing points of view.

Within the Muslim world, that Musharraf exception conveys the message that the United States abandons democracy and human rights abroad to defeat Islamic terrorism, analogous to the World War II alliance with Joseph Stalin against Nazi Germany. The report similarly shies from recommending toppling the House of Saud if it persists in its political and religious repression but unswervingly fights al Qaeda.

Lord Palmerston once lectured the British House of Commons: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and these interests it is our duty to follow.”

The United States would do better by openly acknowledging the same than by treating Muslims as fools.

The September 11 commission frets over making Pakistan an ally of convenience, but in international affairs there is no other genre. Pakistan itself readily parted company with the United States to install the Taliban in Afghanistan on the heels of joint cooperation with the Afghan mujahideen in defeating the Soviet invasion. The report refuses to acknowledge that the United States does and should compromise its ideals in dealings with foreign countries if such staining of its ideological escutcheon is dictated by national security prudence.

To deny the moral blurriness of alliances in the war on global terrorism, as the September 11 commission does, is to hide from the agonizing decisions that daily confront the U.S. president.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant at Bruce Fein and Associates and the Lichfield Group.

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