Monday, October 25, 2004

Shadow War

The Untold Story of How Bush is winning the War on Terror

Part two: Bush’s coalition against terror.

The war on terror binds America both to its traditional “Anglo-Saxon” allies and to its old ideological foes. Troops from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia fight alongside the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. Canadian troops are in Afghanistan. And indeed, the intelligence cooperation between America, Australia and Britain has become so close that Australian and British officials are now free to wander around the cubicles of the state and defense departments without a minder. “They’re considered virtual Americans,” one state department official told me.

Many new alliances are also being forged. A global intelligence-sharing arrangement now incorporates more than one hundred nations. A senior official in Singapore’s intelligence service said it is now routine to exchange leads with intelligence agencies as far flung as Norway, Israel and Uzbekistan. “And when we ask the United States for satellite photos, we receive them in hours, not days.” Even the traditional ideological division that split the world between “pro-American” and “anti-American” nations has faded. America’s old nemesis, Russia, is now a key ally in the bloody battle against global terror. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently revealed that he warned President Bush about Saddam Hussein’s terrorist ambitions against the United States in the week after September 11, 2001. Russian intelligence has trained its sights on Islamic radicals across Russia and the former Soviet republics. Russia even had a September 11 moment of its own when Muslim terrorists seized a Moscow theater with some three hundred people inside. Fighting terrorism is as much a matter of homeland security for Moscow as it is for Washington. And, despite the rhetoric of its beleaguered politicians, French intelligence has supplied the United States with reams of vital information and French troops are in Afghanistan.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have killed or captured hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists. Even Yemen, the traditional home of the bin Laden family and the sole Arab nation to oppose U.S. efforts to liberate Kuwait from Saddam’s grip in 1991, has arrested scores of al Qaeda members.

Nations that reside on America’s dreaded “terrorist sponsors” list have also covertly come to Washington’s aid. Libya, Syria, and especially Sudan have arrested, interrogated, or executed hundreds of al Qaeda members.

President Bush has built a global alliance as unconventional as the foe arrayed against us.

Neither the president nor the press has managed to make the War on Terror into a comprehensible narrative. Instead, it is presented to the public as a string of shootouts and arrests, with no sense of the big picture. Why? For national security and political reasons, there are things that the president cannot tell the public. The president might be winning the war, but to tell us where and how would expose spies and allies, thereby endangering some allied efforts.

Besides, the Bush administration — especially the president himself — prizes secrecy. The administration’s Republican friends in Congress may rue this fact, but they cannot change it. This means that the administration routinely receives rounds of critical coverage, sometimes based on incomplete information.

Mr. Bush faces a dilemma in 2004: If he reveals some of the war’s surprising successes, he might gain votes but impede the war’s progress, while he risks his electoral future by leaving the “shadow war” in the shadows. So far, Mr. Bush has kept his silence. That is a revealing and risky choice, putting the nation’s security ahead of political gain in an election with razor-thin margins.

By and large, the press has failed to use a wide-angle lens in their war coverage; some of the biggest developments in the War on Terror have gone unnoticed. Instead, reporters have offered us shards of information, fragments about terrorists with strange names from faraway lands, or brief clips of politicians and generals. We get only headlines, sound bites, and snapshots. No record of victories, defeats, or draws. It is, as one critic wrote on another subject, “the context of no context.” No big picture.

If the press had covered World War II the way they cover the War on Terror, we would have seen exhaustive coverage of the carnage of the Pearl Harbor attack but missed entirely Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo, the heroic defeat on Wake Island, the desperate defense of Guadalcanal, and the come-from-behind victory in the Battle of Midway. With a press like this, at the end of 1942 America would have no idea whether World War II was a hopeless cataclysm or a purposeful march to victory.

The unreported story of the War on Terror is that we can win it, and that the victories are being won now.

Part 1: U.S. help from Yemen

Part III: Bin Laden’s Iran Alliance

Richard Miniter is also the author of “Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror.”

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