by Larry C. Johnson (bio below)

When President George Bush is feeling political heat generated by questions about illegal domestic spying, secret overseas prisons, or prisoner torture, he seeks refuge in the solemn proclamation, “we are at war.” The war excuse, which is usually accompanied by the elaboration that these excesses are necessary to protect the American people, does not hold water. If President Bush was serious about his insistence that we are at war, his Administration would be on a war footing. But, we are not.

If we were serious about this war … continued below
there would be a supreme commander in charge of tracking down Bin Laden and the remnants of the Al Qaeda network. Instead, the NSC job for coordinating the war on terror has been held by seven different people since the President assumed office. General Wayne Downing, who held the post from October 2001 until September 2002, ultimately resigned in frustration after being repeatedly sand bagged and undercut by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rather than impose order and discipline, President Bush has allowed the coordination function to atrophy.

Today there is no one individual or agency in charge of finding Bin Laden or dismantling Al Qaeda. This fact was highlighted by the recent attempt to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s real number two honcho, with a military strike inside Pakistan. That attack was carried out under the direction of the CIA. US military forces operating in the area were not directly involved. Instead of a single, focused effort to destroy Al Qaeda, the CIA and the Department of Defense are pursuing separate tracks. A case can be made for having either organization in charge. I have no dog in that fight, notwithstanding my previous employment with the CIA. President Bush, despite his tough war talk, is sadly disengaged and has been unwilling to organize his Administration to win the war.

Let us compare George W. Bush to Franklin D. Roosevelt. During World War II President Roosevelt named General George C. Marshall to manage the war effort that defeated the Germans in three years and five months and conquered the Japanese in three years and nine months. Marshall put General Dwight Eisenhower in charge in the European theatre and put Douglas MacArthur in command of the Pacific. Unity and clarity of chain of command are key elements of a successful war. It allows you to marshal resources, devise strategies, and execute effective campaigns. Such unity and clarity do not exist in the Bush war on terrorism. George Bush has not chosen his George Marshall. We have been “fighting” this war for four years, four months and counting and there is no end in sight.

If we were serious about fighting the war on terror, we would mobilize our society to achieve victory and ensure that the citizenry shared the burden. Instead of universal sacrifice, however, only a few are being asked to pay the price. Instead of a draft, the U.S. Army is lowering educational and intelligence requirements for signing up recruits. In addition, the Army is raising the maximum age for new enlistees from 36 to 40. Stocking the Army with recruits who are either of substandard intellect or who are forty years old is not a recipe for building an elite, professional military.

It is not just the Army that is suffering. Good friends in the CIA tell me the Agency continues to hemorrhage people. My career trainee class in 1985, for example, had fifty plus students and was considered large. Today the CIA is running career trainee classes with one hundred students and the training cycle is compressed. Instead of an 18 month cycle students are being pushed out the door in 12 or less. While the influx of new blood seems good on the surface it masks the fact the many “new” trainees are leaving the CIA after one tour overseas. The glamorous world of Tom Clancy is not the reality. Moreover, my cohorts–those folks between 45 and 54 years of age–are abandoning the place in droves. During World War II the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS, did not have a problem recruiting and retaining quality personnel.

Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that we cannot fight and win a war against an ideology or theology relying primarily on military tactics and resources.. There is no doubt that Bin Laden and other Islamic extremists share a vision of creating a new world where people will be governed by the laws of God as contained in the Quran. They are pursuing a religious crusade. Fortunately, the vast majority of muslims, both Shia and Sunni, have not embraced this vision. At least not yet.

An exclusive military response would make sense if the Islamic extremists congregated in mass formations and drilled at fixed installations. They do not. which ensures that a narrow military strategy is doomed to failure. The Islamic terrorists intermingle in civilian populations. They do not wear uniforms and are not easily identified. We may have killed some senior Al Qaeda personnel in Pakistan earlier this month, but we also killed some women and children.

This much is certain, when the United States uses military forces and kills innocent civilians (we excuse it with the euphemism, “collateral damage”) Al Qaeda’s public support increases. Similarly, when Al Qaeda operatives kill muslims in a prominent attack, such as the hotel bombings in Jordan last year, their popularity wanes. Recent polls in Jordan show that support for Al Qaeda has slipped from almost 80% to around 20%. There is a lesson here for us. In the long run we are better off if we win the hearts and minds of people rather than alienating civilian populations and inflaming grieving relatives.

The road to a more realistic policy starts with language. If President Bush insists on calling the effort to quash Al Qaeda a war then his actions and policies should reflect this fact. However, to call it a war while treating it as a political prop does nothing to rally the public nor isolate the Islamists. It simply creates cyncism that eats away at the body politic.


Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world. Further bio details.

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