- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

Recent headlines about the latest National Intelligence Estimate reminded me of the old “blame America first” crowd. In their view, no matter what we do, we never seem to get it right.

Officials speaking “on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a [then-] classified document” told us that the United States must be doing something wrong because we are supposedly “fueling radicalism.” Interestingly, neither those anonymous officials nor the NIE itself provides actual numbers to illustrate how many more radicals became terrorists because we liberated Iraq.

Those who’d blame terrorism on us would have Americans believe that operating from a position of strength is perilous — that killing Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for example, created more terrorists. Others with a more immediate appreciation of Zarqawi’s ruthless brutality, however, saw merit in ending Zarqawi’s reign of terror. In fact, Zarqawi was located and killed in a collaborative effort involving not only American forces, but Iraqis themselves who were fed up with Zarqawi’s brutal beheadings and his bombings of innocent women and children. Jordan openly proclaimed the role of its intelligence arm in locating its murderous native son, inspired no doubt by Zarqawi’s ruthless 2005 bombings in Amman that killed 60 people — mostly Jordanian — at a wedding celebration. If some of Zarqawi’s associates would vow revenge, Iraqis and Jordanians weren’t second-guessing themselves about taking him out. And I think most Americans would agree that U.S. troops in Iraq are safer because Zarqawi is dead.

While the whole “America as terrorist creator” numbers game is murky, what we do know is this: Seven times in the last 15 years brave American men and women have gone into harm’s way to defend people against aggression, oppression or war-induced famine. The American people — at great cost and sacrifice — helped the people of Kuwait, Northern Iraq, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans again reached out with resources and personnel to speed aid to victims of the December 2004 tsunami in Asia and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. In each of those cases, the majority of the people we helped were Muslim. In helping them, did we create more terrorists?

Or was it when we gave terrorists a pass? Following the 1983 terrorist attack on the Marine Barracks in Beirut, we unilaterally pulled out of Lebanon. And in 1993, after American soldiers were killed in Mogadishu, we withdrew. As Chris Wallace famously pointed out again last week, Osama bin Laden characterized that withdrawal as a demonstration of the “weakness and frailty” of America.

Further, believing our national resolve was weak, terrorists came to our soil and in 1993 tried to bring down the World Trade Center. In 1996, they killed U.S. airmen at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. In 1998, they blew up two of our embassies in East Africa. And in 2000, they brazenly attacked the USS Cole in an open port in Yemen. Even though our responses ranged from inaction to anemic strikes, terrorists still attacked us on September 11.

It’s only since then, as we’ve taken an aggressive, forward-leaning posture in a war that began long before September 11 that we’ve had a fairly long period without similar attacks here at home. While that could change, it won’t be because we haven’t tried to root out the terrorists and keep them on the run. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have been aggressive in taking away their safe havens and we’ve made life more difficult. It’s tough to plan an attack when bombs are falling all around or some of the planners don’t show up because they’ve been killed on their way to the meeting.

What news reports didn’t tell about the classified NIE, you can now read for yourself in newly declassified portions of the intelligence estimate. Although the NIE says that al Qaeda still poses our greatest threat, it also says that “United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al Qaeda and disrupted its operations.”

My point is this: There is absolutely no precedent for the proposition that when we back down, terrorists will, too. And now is no time to pursue a foreign policy based on fear, as some would have us do. Bin Laden himself has told us that it is precisely our fear — not a fearsome response — that emboldens the terrorists most. And if anyone is truly acting out of fear these days, it may be terrorists. It was Zarqawi himself who wrote in an intercepted letter to an al Qaeda associate that, “democracy” in Iraq “is coming.” That, he said, will mean “suffocation” for the terrorists.

Victory in the war against terrorism is about more than killing and capturing terrorists and dismantling their networks — as important as these activities remain. Victory in the war against terrorism also requires supporting those who want freedom. The Iraqi people have demonstrated time and again, braving terrorist bombs and bullets to vote, that they want liberty for themselves and their children.

We know that others who want freedom in the Middle East have their eyes on Iraq. We saw a ripple effect that reached Lebanon, where the people made it known they wanted an end to Syrian influence in Lebanese politics. In Egypt, we saw the first multiparty elections. Even the Palestinian people, with their history of troubled leadership, have shown that they too want a choice.

The power of the people can prove more powerful than any army or any band of ruthless terrorists. That is why we must continue the work our troops have pursued so nobly thus far in Iraq, which the terrorists themselves have called the war’s central front. Terrorists know that when democracy can thrive in Iraq, terrorists will have lost once again. The newly released NIE, by the way, puts it like this: “Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.”

It’s when we stop fighting that we start losing. In the meantime, we mean to win, and we are winning.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.


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