Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Foreign Affairs - The Neglected Home Front - Stephen E. Flynn

Foreign Affairs - The Neglected Home Front - Stephen E. Flynn:
"The United States is living on borrowed time -- and squandering it. The attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon highlighted just how open the United States is to unconventional attacks. The widespread economic and social disruption that flowed from the suicidal acts of just 19 terrorists also exposed the Achilles' heel of the world's sole superpower. The transportation, energy, information, financial, chemical, food, and logistical networks that underpin U.S. economic power and the American way of life offer the United States' enemies a rich menu of irresistible targets. And most of these remain virtually unprotected.…"

Washington has demonstrated an extraordinary degree of hardheadedness when it comes to acknowledging the limits of its military and intelligence capabilities to combat the terrorist threat. The premise behind the Bush administration's strategy of preemptive use of force is that as long as the United States is willing to show sufficient grit, it can successfully hold its enemies at bay. Vice President Dick Cheney made this case recently in an address to a class of newly commissioned Coast Guard officers. He asserted, "Wars are not won on the defensive. To fully and finally remove this danger [of terrorism], we have only one option -- and that's to take the fight to the enemy." On July 4, 2004, President George W. Bush made the point this way: "We will engage these enemies in these countries [Iraq and Afghanistan] and around the world so we do not have to face them here at home."

Targeting terrorism at its source is an appealing notion. Unfortunately, the enemy is not cooperating. There is no central front on which al Qaeda and its radical jihadist imitators can be cornered and destroyed. The commuter train bombings in Madrid in March illustrate that terrorists are living and operating within jurisdictions of U.S. allies and do not need to receive aid and comfort from rogue states. According to the U.S. Department of State's latest revised global terrorism report, the number of terrorist incidents went up in 2003, despite the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. And, according to a July statement by Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, al Qaeda remains at large inside the United States, busily planning its next attack on U.S. soil, perhaps before the November elections.

The reluctance of the White House and the national security community to adapt to the shifting nature of the terrorist threat bears a disturbing resemblance to the opening chapter of World War II. In September 1939, the German army rolled eastward into Poland and unleashed a new form of combat known as "blitzkrieg." When Poland became a victim of the Third Reich, London and Paris finally abandoned their policies of appeasement and declared war. The British and French high commands then began to execute war plans that relied on assumptions drawn from their experiences in World War I. They activated their reserves and reinforced the Maginot Line, defenses of mounted cannons stretching for 250 miles along the Franco-German border. Then they waited for Hitler's next move.

The eight-month period before the fall of Paris came to be known as "the phony war." During this relatively quiet time, France and the United Kingdom were convinced they were deterring the Germans by mobilizing their more plentiful military assets in an updated version of trench warfare. But they did not alter their tactics to respond to the new offensive warfare that the Germans had executed with such lethal results in eastern Europe. In May 1940, they paid a heavy price for their complacency: Panzer units raced into the lowlands, circumvented the Maginot Line, and conquered France shortly thereafter. The British expeditionary forces narrowly escaped by fleeing across the English Channel aboard a makeshift armada, leaving much of their armament behind on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Similarly today, the United States is fighting the war it prepared for in the twentieth century, rather than the one that is being waged upon it by al Qaeda. Instead of a Maginot Line, the Pentagon is executing its long-standing forward defense strategy, which involves leapfrogging ahead of U.S. borders and waging combat on the turf of U.S. enemies or allies. Meanwhile, protecting the rear -- the American nation itself -- remains largely outside the scope of national security even though the September 11 attacks were launched from the United States on targets within the United States.…
con·cept: Foreign Affairs - The Neglected Home Front - Stephen E. Flynn