View Full Version : An Unfinished War

09-13-03, 06:15 AM

An Unfinished War

By William F. Sauerwein

The terrorist attack on 9/11 supposedly woke America up to the dangers it faced from Muslim extremists. Yet, two years later it seems too many of us have forgotten the horrors of that attack. Americans have largely reverted to their favorite pastimes, and only those with family members directly involved in the war effort seem concerned.

In one true sense, we know that the nation has made headway in the war: No subsequent attack has occurred. We have a warning system in place, and news reports broadcast alerts and hunts for terrorist suspects. Our successes in Afghanistan and Iraq have eliminated terrorist sanctuaries and disrupted al Qaeda’s command and control. However, it is not our successes that render us vulnerable, but our failures, which we must fix.

First, any nation unable – or unwilling – to secure its borders jeopardizes its sovereignty and threatens its citizens. Our borders remain as porous today as they were on 9/11, with many leaders deliberately stalling solutions. Security at our airports and other ports of entry has improved, but is still far from adequate.

Border security had been a concern for several years, especially the resulting cost in government services for illegal immigrants. I learned about five years ago that the budget for the U.S. Border Patrol that year had been doubled. However, that money “disappeared,” and did not reach the coffers of the Border Patrol.

During the Y2K crisis, we learned of potential threats from massive terrorist attacks. Law enforcement agencies maintained a heightened state of alert on that particular New Year’s Eve. We learned that U.S. agents had captured several suspected terrorists crossing the Canadian border.

Despite these warnings, and earlier terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, on our troops in the Middle East and our embassies in Africa from 1993 until 2000, we largely remained apathetic. Our most significant response was launching cruise missiles at terrorist training sites in Afghanistan, and an aspirin factory in Sudan.

Suddenly on 9/11, everyone wanted to know how this could have happened and what could be done to prevent it. The scenes of horror dominated the media for weeks. This was the most devastating attack on American soil in history, worse than Pearl Harbor.

Americans were filled with an angry determination to find those responsible, and punish them for this attack. Ordinary citizens opened their wallets and donated millions of dollars to the victims and their survivors. “Old Glory” appeared everywhere, and “God Bless America” became the theme song for baseball’s seventh inning stretch.

What happened to that determination? After Pearl Harbor, Japanese Adm. Isoruku Yamamoto reportedly said, ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” On 9/11, the American giant awoke, removed the immediate threat from al Qaeda, and then – while not returning to sleep – went on to other things, such as the invasion of Iraq.

With no follow-on attack within our borders since then, we feel safe and secure, and the changes in alert status seem more of a nuisance than anything.

However, we ignore the sophistication with which al Qaeda accomplished these attacks at our own peril. Terrorism is a form of guerrilla warfare, in that the initiative lies with the assailant. They have the time for watching their target, learning its strengths and weaknesses, and getting acquainted with their victims. Something we must not forget is that these terrorists used our freedoms and technology against us.

Since we cannot adequately protect all potential targets, particularly “soft” targets, we must protect what we can. First, we must secure our borders and ports of entry, and scrutinize carefully who gets visas in our embassies. The more terrorists we deny entry, or hopefully apprehend, the fewer there are to attack our vulnerable infrastructure.

Roger Moore’s DefenseWatch articles, “War in the South: Guarding Our Flanks,” (Aug. 27, 2003) and “The War On Our Southern Border,” (Aug. 11, 2003) highlighted the problems on our southern border. If those seeking a better life can avoid detection, so can terrorists, and will the “coyotes” not take a terrorist’s money? As Moore describes, closing this sieve would free up millions of dollars for homeland security.

While our border with Mexico is mostly desert, making detection easier, much of our northern border is forested. A terrorist, or a group of terrorists, could hide, undetected within a few feet of a patrol. Furthermore, Canada has very relaxed policies regarding immigration, and who receives asylum, including known terrorists. The news show “60 Minutes” last week updated its own powerful investigation into how Canada has become a haven for al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists. [

Securing our coastline is the responsibility of the Coast Guard and Customs Service. Both of which are undermanned and under-funded for the tasks the government is requiring of them. Furthermore, during times of war the Coast Guard is also performing military missions in conjunction with the Navy, further straining their assets.

Many have stated that strengthening border and airport security is a “logical” mission for the National Guard. What they forget is that with the “downsizing” of the active duty force the Guard inherited more wartime missions. There are currently 8,000 National Guard personnel on duty in Kuwait and Iraq.

With no projected increase in active duty end-strength, this trend will continue, and homeland security will suffer.

Executing these wartime missions is imperative since it does enhance our homeland security. We must smoke these terrorists out of their safe havens, and topple the regimes that support them. If we eliminate their finances, we dry up their sources for weaponry and logistical support. By keeping their leadership on the run, it hinders their abilities to communicate with cells already in place.

And that threat here at home is very real.

At last report from the Justice Department there are at least 60 active terrorist cells in our country. We already know that everything is a “military” target to them, and “soft” targets easier to strike. But are our government agencies serious about finding these people before they strike?

Two years later, most government agencies still balk at any change, nor have they succeeded in working together effectively toward the common goal. Interagency computer systems remain incompatible, which should have been solved immediately since all federal agencies fall under the Executive Branch. Bureaucrats who are part of the problem, instead of part of the solution, should be terminated.

Perhaps most disturbing is the attitude of many state and local governments, that argue without federal funding, homeland security is impossible. Homeland security is every citizen’s duty, and if federal money is unavailable, can you afford to leave your citizens unprotected? The U.S. Constitution, after all, leaves many of the powers, including “police powers,” in the hands of the states.

These federal funds always had “strings” attached when reaching the state and local levels. Currently, many state and local governments refuse to cooperate with the federal government, including not enforcing federal laws. Many already ignore federal immigration laws, which makes border security impossible. As a first step, the U.S. government should not reward – and instead start punishing – such noncompliance.

California has become the latest of thirty states currently issuing illegal immigrants a valid driver’s license. This is a legal source of identification that is used for opening bank accounts, entering school, buying firearms and purchasing airline tickets. All 19 of the 9/11 terrorists, here on student visas, held valid state driver’s licenses.

At least 160 cities currently have laws refusing to obey the “USA Patriot Act.” At least one has threatened firing its own employees if they cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies. This not only sounds ludicrous, but illegal, since I thought that federal law was supreme. Do you suppose one of these cities would release me for violating their traffic laws if I felt it “unconstitutional?”

Perhaps our most pressing need in the war against terrorism is the need for leadership. I am not just talking about President Bush, or military leaders, but at all levels of society. Anyone with military experience knows that generals do not win the battles, it is the small unit leader who keeps the troops moving.


09-13-03, 06:15 AM
Currently our political “leaders” are not leading, but pandering to voting constituencies, and furthering their own political agendas. “Homeland security” has become the new phrase for justifying all kinds of political “pork.” Many of these professional politicians have been in power for years, yet have done nothing for national security. The 9/11 attacks and subsequent events have proven they will gamble with national security, and the lives of our citizens, for personal benefit.

Already the political rhetoric is focused on the presidential election next year, the war effort be damned. The politicians are positioning themselves where they can do the most good –for themselves. They all use the war against terrorism, and the war in Iraq, for extolling their competency. But few of them acknowledge their roles in creating the mess which led to 9/11 in the first place.

The silver lining of this cloud is that despite being undermanned and under-funded, our military forces have performed their duties magnificently. Terrorist leaders are on the run in Afghanistan and fighting for survival on the lam in Iraq. Our law enforcement agencies have apprehended terrorist suspects and broken up terrorist cells. All of this has hindered their efforts for executing renewed attacks on our homeland.

Yet, despite the successes of our military forces and our “first responders,” victory remains uncertain.

Unless we, as a nation, get serious about this war, we will remain vulnerable for the next attack. On 9/11, the terrorists did not kill the “government,” or “somebody else,” they killed our relatives, friends and neighbors.

Monitoring suspected terrorists and reporting suspicious activities is not “big brother.” It is taking necessary precautions for preventing the next attack. Supporting our troops at war is not “jingoism.” It is supporting those who protect us.

There is so much yet to be done.

William F. Sauerwein is a Contributing Editor to DefenseWatch. He can be contacted at mono@gtec.com.