The Terror War's Back Seat Drivers

By Evan Coyne Maloney
Posted: 17 November 2002

As al Qaeda chatter reaches record levels, the FBI is warning of "spectacular attacks" against targets of "high symbolic value" intended to inflict "mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy, and maximum psychological trauma." Meanwhile, the U.S. military's Northern Command warns that a terrorist attack is imminent. Just days after Osama bin Laden targeted Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia--in addition to the United States--a new al Qaeda threat says, "expect us in Washington and New York."

Although the White House later downplayed the FBI warning, veteran newsman Sam Donaldson dismissed the White House's attempt to put a prettier face on the most alarming U.S. terror warning issued to date. Donaldson passed along a report from within U.S. intelligence saying, "[w]e are hearing not just chatter [...] We're getting some specific indications that, looking back on 9/11, we now know were there as clues." (This back-and-forth over the FBI warning recalls the recent confusion in Britain over a terror alert that mentioned the possibility of poison gas and dirty bomb attacks. That alert was quickly issued, revoked, and then replaced with a less-specific warning.)

It could be that these conflicting signals are deliberate attempts to mitigate the emotion caused by the warnings. The intention could be to strike a balance between provoking a heightened sense of vigilance and frightening people into the kind of nervousness and pessimism that could drag down the economy or lead to outright panic. Nevertheless, the urgency of these warnings suggests that each day passing without an attack might just be a day lived in the blind comfort of September 10th.

An Imminent Global Threat

The recent reports, threats and intelligence warnings--as well as the recent attack that killed over 190 people in Bali--have all demonstrated that al Qaeda is a serious threat to more than just the United States alone. The International Herald Tribune cites "[a] wave of unusually stark warnings" indicating "that al Qaeda may be planning to employ chemical or other weapons of mass destruction against European targets." And the Washington Post reports that European officials believe "there is now sufficient intelligence to signal that danger may be gathering." (One can only hope that this harsh reality will force the waffling and fiddling "leaders" occupying most western European elected offices to seriously consider surgically implanting some vertebrae.)

Since the attacks of September 11th, we've been warned continuously that additional attacks are inevitable; it is only a matter of when, not if. More attacks will happen, and we will suffer losses, but just as wars are won by victors who didn't win every battle, we will win this war even though we've already sustained terrible attacks and will undoubtedly sustain more.

Back Seat Drivers

But the widening scope of the threat and the certainty of another attack haven't stopped top Democrats from seizing upon the terror alerts to renew their complaints about the progress in the war.

Senator Tom Daschle, the most powerful Democratic official in the U.S., recently said, "I think we have to question whether or not we're winning the war. We haven't found bin Laden, we haven't made any real progress in many of the other areas involving the key elements of al Qaeda. They continue to be as big a threat today as they were a year and a half ago. So by what measure can we say this has been successful so far? The front page stories today ought to be a wake-up call to this country, to this administration, that whatever they're doing it's not enough."

Senator Bob Graham, the Democrat who currently chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said of the Bush Administration, "They are so focused on Iraq that they aren't paying adequate attention to the war on terror."

Hussein: al Qaeda's Wholesaler?

First of all, it's astounding that the Democratic leadership still hasn't figured out that a war against Iraq is not only part of the war on terror, it is central to the war on terror. That's because, right now, Saddam Hussein is perfectly positioned to be al Qaeda's prime supplier of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weaponry.

By attacking his own people with chemical weapons in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein has already proven that he's capable of producing such weapons. And Hussein shares al Qaeda's willingness to use terrorist tactics against innocents as well as its hatred of the United States and the West in general. Considering that bin Laden's latest threat specifically warns against attacking Iraq, it doesn't take much brainpower to deduce that Hussein and al Qaeda may be assisting each other in their common goals. So is it any wonder why the Bush Administration is "so focused on Iraq"? Isn't it a good idea to put someone out of business who might now be--or could be in short time--al Qaeda's chief weapons producer?

No Discernable Alternatives

But what's even more disturbing about the Democratic complaints is their timing. Just when reports indicate imminent attacks around the world, the Democrats have selected a political strategy of criticizing the progress in the war on terror. One has to wonder whether it was important to get these criticisms on the record before more attacks come, so if attacks do come, they can say, "See? We were right! We aren't winning the war!" (Of course, if Democrats do say that, we should remember that these were the same people crowing about a quagmire in Afghanistan just three weeks into the war, and just days before the Taliban collapsed entirely.)

Now, I know some people are going to say that calling the Democrats to task for their recent criticisms of the terror war is just a way of stifling debate. Not true. Debate is an exchange of ideas. But Senators Daschle and Graham offered no ideas for how to win the war. They just offered complaints. Until they propose actual alternatives that can be discussed and implemented, they're going to continue sounding like stereotypical mothers-in-law who hover over any activity, whining, "No! You're doing it wrong!"

It's a shame that the people working to win the terror war must endure the endless blathering of those whose sole concern seems to be winning the next election.

Copyright 2002, Evan Coyne Maloney All Worldwide Rights Reserved