Along the Tracks

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Early Edition

My just completed weekend column - you read it here first (but read it there, too!):

The next steps in the War on Terror


Now that John Kerry has effectively claimed the Democratic nomination, and there is no longer any need to muse about the qualities of the party’s potential nominee ... let’s turn our attention to the war.

I do not speak only of Iraq - although that is certainly a key aspect - but rather, the War on Terror as a whole. Where are we in this war? What have we accomplished? Most importantly, where should we go from here?

Right now, about 50 million people are no longer subject to the daily brutality of totalitarian governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda has been substantially degraded, with leaders and operatives killed and captured, the free reign of a home base denied, and a collaborator (occasional in the past, potentially substantial and horrifying in the future) has been removed. Homeland security has been greatly improved. International cooperation on stopping terrorism is at an all-time high. Funding sources have been frozen, confiscated or dried up. Many “fence-sitting” nations have chosen the path of self-interest and ended their support of terrorists.

Not bad for two-and-a-half years’ work.

Unfortunately, the war is not over. The al Qaeda organizer, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, continues to maim and murder our allies, the people of Iraq. In Afghanistan, Taliban/al Qaeda fighters are still hitting “soft targets,” which generally means civilians. In the Holy Land, bloodthirsty killers denied access to Israelis are now turning on other Palestinians not sufficiently devoted to their murderous cause. In places like Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Chechnya, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, Islamists continue to organize, train and kill - some thanks to weak government control in some or most areas, some thanks to direct aid from the government, and some thanks to the confusion of ongoing conflicts. Their presence destabilizes the “host,” willing or unwilling, as well as the surrounding regions. Their presence also remains a threat to Americans, both overseas and, ultimately, here at home.

Meanwhile, at least two governments - Iran and North Korea - remain dedicated to developing weapons of mass murder, and are not philosophically opposed to using them in unprovoked attacks. Even more frightening, they are not philosophically opposed to strapping them to human delivery systems: terrorists.

Thus, our present point: We are winning the war; we can only lose it by giving up; but in giving up, we must surely lose.

So, if we are committed to victory in the War on Terror, what steps are next?

First, we must complete the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan and set them on a free and democratic course. This is not a proposition of a few months. This will involve years of work, and President Bush should make that clear. Long after sovereignty is transferred in Iraq, American troops should be hunting al Qaeda terrorists and providing stability as the Arab World’s first real democracy blooms. And as troops are eventually drawn down, American investments of expertise and, yes, money will be necessary until the Iraqi people can stand on their own, economically and politically.
Iran is in flux, and we should encourage its transition with everything at our disposal. We should remain the beacon of freedom to the millions disillusioned with the clerics who have turned Iran into a pariah state. All dealings with that autocratic government should be focused on curtailing threats posed by its weapons development and its terror financing, and on encouraging steps toward true democracy, demanded by its people. Iran will come around, with combinations of carrots and sticks and a heavy dose of patience. The installation of Iran’s first truly representative, freely-elected government will signal a major turning point in the War on Terror.

North Korea seems willing to deal on its nuclear ambitions, and a verifiable treaty removing its threat should be our goal. Political change, however desirable, will be more difficult.

Sudan, Syria and Libya are beginning to show changes of heart, and those should be encouraged diplomatically and, in the long term, economically. Friendly Muslim nations also must be pushed toward the goals of freedom, economic opportunity and democratic rule. This process, too, is starting to have positive effects, particularly in Pakistan and Jordan, and must continue.

Finally, in places where terrorists remain in effective control, they must be fought - with military force. In many cases, those forces can be the soldiers of friendly nations seeking to regain territorial control or coalition allies with trained specialists who can bring their abilities to the field. However, we must accept America’s role as leader, and our military will often bear the brunt of this crucial part of the war.
Many wonder how, or if, the War on Terror will end. I predict it will, if we follow through on our successes so far, and stay focused on the larger goal of bringing freedom and opportunity to the Muslim world.

Just this Wednesday, Sunnis and Shias marched hand-in-hand through Baghdad to protest al Qaeda’s vicious attacks against worshippers earlier in the week. Their demonstration of unity and resolve is a strong sign of hope for the future - and a sure sign we are winning this war.

Paul A. Miller is managing editor of the (Montpelier) Leader Enterprise and the (Napoleon) Northwest Signal. He can be reached at

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