January 5, 2010

January 5, 2010 | Commentary on Terrorism

Why the Coming Year Could Be Tough For U.S.

Mass murder often begins with words.

Long before 9/11, Osama bin Laden attacked America -- with words. He wrote fatwas. A fatwa is a "legal" opinion issued by an Islamic scholar. They rule whether a given act is obligatory, permitted or forbidden.

In one of his many acts of apostasy, bin Laden appropriated fatwas to launch his attack on the West. Following the form of the fatwa, bin Laden combed religious texts including the Quran and the Hadith for anything to justify mass murder.

"Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, seize them, and beleaguer them," he quoted, "and lie in wait for them in every stratagem." The head of al Qaeda vowed to fight as long as it took, never quit, and find any way he could to kill, humiliate and dishonor the people of America.

Not until after the twin towers fell did people start to take his words seriously.

The new year marks the end of the first decade of the long war. If the last 12 months are any measure, it seems as if Washington is again forgetting to take bin Laden's words seriously.

Last year may have been the worst ever in America's battle against bin Laden. That is troubling news. Since 2001, there have been 28 failed terrorist attacks against the United States. That averages out to about three foiled attempts per year. In 2009, there were six failed attempts -- the most in one year.

The fact that the numbers were up is not of itself a telling statistics. The numbers are still small. But, there are other facts to worry about.

In the last attempt, a Christmas Day effort to set a Detroit-bound plane on fire -- the system failed.

The U.S. government had a number of red flags about the would-be fire starter, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but failed to revoke his visa, place him on the no-fly last or flag him for additional screening.

This isn't the only time the system failed. Five youths from Northern Virginia made it all the way to Pakistan, where they were luckily picked up by local authorities before they could join al Qaeda and hurt anyone.

Others less lucky, youth from the Somali diaspora have been recruited away to join Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate. Meanwhile, in the most tragic domestic terrorist attack since 9/11, in November 2009, Nidal Malik Hasan killed a dozen of his fellow soldiers and shot up a score more.

These chinks in the armor are troubling, as are the mixed signals sent out by the White House.

Our president has shown terrible leadership on pushing for the renewal of key investigatory authorities authorized under the USA Patriot Act.

These tools are among law enforcement's most effective means available for ferreting out terrorist conspiracies. Rather than pushing through renewal, the White House settled for a 60-day extension tacked on to the Defense appropriations bill. That's bad, because those in Congress who want to weaken the law see the lack of administration commitment as another opportunity to undermine investigatory tools.

Likewise, the president sent the wrong signal to al Qaeda when he declared a set date to start a withdrawal from Afghanistan and sent fewer troops than were required for a maximum military effort.

"Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan, and that means more Americans will die," one Taliban leader told the BBC. Sensing a lack of resolve, the Taliban groups have vowed to join together to renew their own efforts.

Other troubling indicators include refusing to even acknowledge the U.S. is in a war against al Qaeda. The White House also substituted its own political agenda for dealing with the detention and trial of unlawful combatants, rather than deal with substantive issues. Merely changing the ZIP code of terrorists and war criminals is not a real policy.

Finally, the White House is planning on renewing a call for legislation that would provide a mass amnesty for illegals, a move that is sure to engulf the Department of Homeland Security in a highly charged and distracting political maelstrom. Not to mention that amnesty will just attract more illegal border crossers and make the border even more unmanageable.

These decisions send the wrong signal to al Qaeda. If the administration doesn't change its tone, 2010 could be worse.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First Appeared in the Examiner