- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009



Outgoing President George W. Bush, earned his tactical spurs in Afghanistan and Iraq. There can be no doubting the stunning military victories, respectively in 2001 and 2003, that liberated 60 million inhabitants of these two blighted countries. It will become an important part of his presidential legacy.

But it is an unfortunate exaggeration to suggest Mr. Bush rolled back Islamic terrorism, as Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation has written. Granted, there has been no further attack on the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, and on Europe since July 7, 2005. However, Mr. Gardiner’s contention “The broader war against Islamist terrorism has also been a success” ignores the larger world in which al Qaeda, its affiliates and companions in arms are actively and successfully at work.

Three Asian countries - India, Iran and Pakistan - plus the Americas are prime examples of major ongoing terrorist activity. Considering each summarizes the dangerous range of the terror threat.

Democratic, non-sectarian India is increasingly imperiled by its Muslim minority, the world’s third-largest Islamic population after Indonesia and Pakistan. Aided and abetted by terrorists trained in Iran and Pakistan, fanatical elements are mounting increasingly lethal incidents.

The November Mumbai attacks killing upwards of 300 and wounding thousands were the latest and worst terrorist events of an estimated 400 committed on Indian soil during 2008. It is clear that Muslim terrorists of varying persuasions - Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, al Qaeda, nationalist - are determined to destabilize, even destroy, India.

Some elements seek control of 67 percent Muslim Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, connecting the state with the Pakistani portion. Others seek dominant Muslim influence, including recognition of Islamic Shariah law, in Assam and West Bengal states, where Muslims account for 30 percent of the population. Still others seek simply to destroy the Indian nation.

Revolutionary Iran, claiming 98 percent Muslim population, seeks to export and strengthen radical Shi’a Islam in Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Saudi Arabia and Latin America. The Lebanese venture, spearheaded by Hezbollah and effectively controlling the country, is plotting more mischief in the Palestinian territories and against Israel. Hezbollah was inspired by revolutionary Iran’s founder the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and remains principally financed by Tehran, as well as drug-trafficking in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Its activities extend to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay border areas around famed Iguasu Falls, and cadres in Venezuela train Colombian revolutionaries.

In neighboring Iraq, Tehran is playing a careful game between the majority Shi’a population and U.S. forces, as it seeks to ensure Iranian suzerainty over the country and its enormous oil reserves once coalition forces leave.

Iranian agents and trained terrorists are unsettling Pakistan from rugged Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan to mainstream Sindh and Punjab, as they seek to dominate the state. In neighboring Afghanistan, Iran serves as a critical transshipment site for Taliban arms and the most important sanctuary after Pakistan for the deposed but resurgent Afghan fanatics.

Iran considers Saudi Arabia the greatest threat to its regional ambitions and has deployed numerous Shi’a cells in the Saudi’s eastern province, repository of the world’s largest oil reserves. India, its second-greatest perceived threat, has for years borne the brunt of attacks launched by Iran-trained Shi’a Muslim terrorists.

In addition to Hezbollah activities, Iran’s diplomatic, commercial and military reach extends to several Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Finally, shrill calls for elimination of Israel and Great Satan America continue.

Crisis-prone Pakistan is fast becoming the world’s most dangerous failed state, as radical Islamists move to control all sectors of government and the military. Terrorist elements have long held key positions in the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba fundamentalist movement has a virulent presence throughout the country, particularly in populous Sindh Province. ISI and LeT have worked for years to destabilize Jammu and Kashmir, while simultaneously training Pakistani and Indian terrorists for disruptive duty in the two countries.

Pakistan is not just a perennially struggling state of some 175 million: the country has a nuclear arsenal of 55-100 weapons that, in radical hands, could wreak havoc on the region and world.

The Western Hemisphere is a toxic blend of guerrilla groups in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru - with narco-terrorists in Colombia, Mexico and throughout Central America. Coupled with financial suborning of other Caribbean and Latin American states by Venezuela’s still significant petroleum riches, the United States faces a major terror threat from its closest neighbors.

In mid-December, 33 regional leaders convened in a lush Brazilian setting to welcome communist, criminal Cuba back into the family of regional states, while specifically excluding the United States.

The foregoing should convince even the most optimistic observer that while scoring some tactical victories in the war on terror, there has been a critical failure at the strategic level, first demonstrated by the near loss of Iraq following its spectacular liberation and more recently in Afghanistan where, unbelievably, the reviled Taliban once again threaten the fragile society.

In Latin America, Washington’s almost total neglect of all but Colombia finds fully half the region’s governments run by ultra-leftists and their fellow-travelers, while others like Mexico, Panama, Peru and several Caribbean states twist slowly in the radical wind.

The last eight years have seen a woeful lack of strategic planning by the Bush administration from Asia to the Americas, from India, Iran and Iraq to Pakistan, Paraguay and Peru. It does not take a geopolitical genius to discern that the terror community, having shown it can strike the centers of Western civilization, is focusing on areas where they can undermine the West before striking at its heart yet again.

Thankfully, presidential leadership has liberated more people from political bondage than have been freed since World War II, committed more resources to fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa than all previous administrations combined, and stimulated more tsunami relief than all other nations. And yet the United States has never been so reviled and spurned.

The only explanation is that while looking after important details, we have not established overreaching plans for winning friends, for strengthening them and for confronting our opponents. Indeed, we have not even mounted a concerted effort to convince the American people we are in fact engaged in a prolonged war against terror.

These, sadly, are failings from which it will take years to recover, despite our tactical achievements.

John R. Thomson is a geopolitical analyst who has lived and worked for more than four decades in Asia and Latin America.

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