- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

The lead story this week, once again, was how the Democratic leadership continues to play a game of high stakes chicken with the White House over the War Emergency Supplemental Bill.

Political pundits continue to pontificate over who will be the winner and loser if (or more likely when), the president vetoes the Democratic measure. All the while, our troops are not getting the funding they need because Congress chose to “recess” without finishing its work. It’s time to take the discussion in a different direction and ask a basic question: Why did this happen?

A common view is that the American public is simply “tired of this war,” and sees their troops “in the middle of someone else’s civil war.” Many see the withdrawal timeline embedded in the Democratic spending measure as a message of dissatisfaction with the administration. Others say domestic issues have been subordinated to our foreign policy agenda.

In my view, many Americans have been seduced by these views. The politics pull us away from critically analyzing the heart of the problem. The events that led up to this bill’s passage and the current executive versus legislative branch tussle are symptoms of how our enemies work to shape the perceptions and actions of the American people, including this Congress.

If you believe the United States could never allow its enemies to subvert its decisionmaking process, think again. It is happening, and here’s why. The degree to which our citizens enjoy freedom and legal protection is unmatched. In addition, the U.S. is a forerunner in developing new technology, particularly in information communications. Terrorist organizations have learned to manipulate these assets, including television news, to gain influence from the national level right down to public opinion at the grass-roots level. We don’t notice this because the voice is masked. This is only part of our dilemma, though.

Unlike our enemies, we have not been able to effectively articulate our message regarding the Iraq war and the global war on terror as a whole. Many, perhaps most Americans have not yet made the connection that we are engaged in a global war on terror that will be measured not in months or years, but in decades, and that Iraq is the central battleground.

Terrorists do not have to hide in the shadows when they recruit, raise funds, or share operational techniques. They “hide” in the open by leveraging technology and the World Wide Web. The House Armed Services Committee expressed this concern in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007. The committee cited organizations, such as al Qaeda, using the Internet to carry out strategic and operational objectives, and directed the Defense Department to take steps to counter this threat.

This dangerous trend is not limited to Arabic- or Farsi-speaking audiences. Just look at Hezbollah-Argentina’s Web site at https://www.islam-shia.org/ and you’ll see anti-Western messages for the Spanish-speaking audience.

Simply put, Internet technology and television news have given terrorists the means to wear down public resolve, by overtly showing troops in harm’s way, while subtly pushing anti-Western rhetoric. Charity organizations and advocacy groups provide a benign facade to recruit support in the U.S. for their cause. They manipulate U.S. privacy laws to operate domestic Web sites free of monitoring. Hacking software enables them to fraudulently fund their operations. This is not insignificant: The planner of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — reportedly used chat software to communicate with at least two hijackers.

Al Qaeda seems to have no problem getting its message out, but for some reason we can’t do the same. A network of radical Islam is unfolding before our eyes and many refuse to see this threat. Al Qaeda-affiliated networks in North Africa have connections to attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and plans for operations against Western targets in Europe.

In our Hemisphere, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is pro-Iran and pro-Hezbollah. Hamas plans to open an office in Caracas, Venezuela. A prominent counterterrorism scholar in Israel recently observed an Islamization trend in Latin America in the drop of Catholicism from almost 90 percent to between 55 percent and 65 percent.

We should also be greatly concerned about what is happening in our greatest educational institutions. Radical groups have learned to influence university Middle Eastern studies programs, the curriculums and selections of professors. Unchecked, this will effectively embed radical influence in our own academic community.

So, what are we doing about these problems? Not enough. Our laws and our customs have not kept pace with technology. We limit our own flexibility by inappropriately applying the very laws and freedoms intended to preserve our freedom. Our bureaucracy is too “stovepiped” to effectively fight our enemy. And we lack a strategic communications capability that effectively educates Americans from the national to local community level on the dire nature of the threats before us.

Congress needs to expeditiously spearhead the effort to reverse these impediments. But Congress can’t do it alone. The media, industry, interagency community, defense establishment, interest groups and the American people need to all be on board.

The United States needs to change its mindset about the threats we face, as Abraham Lincoln did in his December 1862 message to Congress: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Jim Saxton, New Jersey Republican, is a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and founder and senior member of the House Terrorism and Unconventional Threats Subcommittee.

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