June 18, 2004 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security
With the memory of Ronald Reagan fresh in our minds, it's worth paraphrasing one of his most famous comments: When it comes to terrorism, are you safer today than you were three years ago?
The answer is a resounding yes. We're winning the war on terrorism, with our police actions here at home and our military actions overseas. That's because we're finally fighting terrorism effectively.
We're safer in part because of sensible reforms such as the Patriot Act. That law, passed in the days after 9/11, did two important things: It tore down the so-called "wall" between intelligence and law enforcement, and it updated our anti-terrorism laws so they'd be able to deal with new technology and new threats.
Now the Justice Department is allowed -- under strict judicial supervision -- to collect intelligence information that may protect our country from foreign threats, including terrorism.
Attorney General John Ashcroft recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee that, using the Patriot Act, we've brought criminal charges against 310 individuals and so far won 179 convictions. In addition, Ashcroft says, "we've broken up terrorist plots from Virginia to Oregon, from Florida to New York, in the heartland and on both coasts" and launched 70 investigations into terrorist financing.
Who knows how many future 9/11-style attacks we've averted?
We're safer overseas as well.
Long before Sept. 11, al Qaeda terrorists targeted us. In 1998, they detonated car bombs at two American embassies in Africa. In 2000, they bombed the USS Cole in Yemen. Our responses then obviously did nothing to deter them. In 1998, we lobbed a few cruise missiles at sites in Afghanistan but failed to take out Osama bin Laden or any of his top lieutenants. After the Cole bombing, instead of using the military, we sent in the FBI to investigate.
Now, however, we're mounting a serious, military response to the terrorist threat. First we led a coalition to overturn the Taliban government in Afghanistan. That corrupt regime gave direct support and comfort to bin Laden. Today, Afghanistan is preparing for a democratic election, and the terrorists who operated there are dead or in hiding. The CIA, too, has had its successes, including outing Pakistan's nuclear peddler A.Q. Khan.
Consider the National Security Strategy that the Bush administration announced in November 2002 -- a strategy that promised aggressive action in the war against terrorism. "Our priority will be first to disrupt and destroy terrorist organizations of global reach and attack their leadership; command, control, and communications; material support; and finances," the strategy says. This has meant focusing on the major exporters of weapons of mass destruction, including Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
We also needed to do something about Iraq. We'd turned again and again to the United Nations, which had passed 17 resolutions ordering Saddam Hussein to verifiably disarm. He refused to do so, repeatedly. And, repeatedly, the Security Council declined to take any action.
By leading a coalition to remove Saddam, we've eliminated a known threat. Plus, terrorists worldwide realize they're running out of places to hide. That's why they're fighting so hard to derail our effort to rebuild Iraq. They're throwing themselves against the might of the U.S. military and being killed by the thousands, because when Iraq is a thriving democracy they know they'll be unwelcome there.
President Bush frequently reminds us, we're involved in a war
against terrorism. At home, our law enforcement agencies are
aggressively tracking and detaining suspected terrorists. Abroad,
our military is on the offensive against terrorists. The war is far
from over, but with the right strategy the outcome is assured: We
Ed Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.