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Terrorism catchall too vague an enemy for war { July 23 2004 }

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Friday, July 23, 2004, 12:00 a.m. Pacific
9/11 report: "Terrorism" catchall too vague an enemy

By Glenn Kessler
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON The Sept. 11 commission report offers a broad critique of a central tenet of the Bush administration's foreign policy that the attacks have required a "war on terrorism."

The report argues that the notion of fighting an enemy called "terrorism" is too diffuse and vague to be effective. Strikingly, the report also makes no reference to the invasion of Iraq as being part of the war on terrorism, a frequent assertion of President Bush and his top aides.

"The first phase of our post-9-11 efforts rightly included military action to topple the Taliban and pursue al-Qaida. This work continues," the report said. "But long-term success demands the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy and homeland defense. If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort."

In addition to making anticipated findings on the Sept. 11 plot and recommendations for homeland security, the commission offered a series of foreign-policy prescriptions to correct what it suggests is an unbalanced global strategy. The effort is to shift the government away from focusing on what the report calls a "generic evil," and toward a more precise definition of the threat.

The report argues that the nation's enemy consists of two parts: al-Qaida, a stateless network of terrorists that is "weakened but continues to pose a grave threat"; and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world that "is gathering and will menace Americans and American interests long after" Osama bin Laden is gone.

Thus, the report said, U.S. strategy must focus on dismantling al-Qaida and prevailing over the ideology that fosters Islamist terrorism.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a largely secular state. The report notes that a failed Iraq in the wake of the U.S. invasion could become "breeding grounds for attacks against Americans at home."

The report identifies six areas that it says could be bases for terrorists areas with rugged terrain and weak governments and says they should be a particular focus of U.S. policy. The report also makes specific recommendations about U.S. policy toward three key Islamic states Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia with the biggest shift in policy recommended for U.S.-Saudi relations.

The report faulted the failure of both Saudi and U.S. leaders to talk openly about the close relationship at the top levels of government, and for allowing the relationship to be defined mostly by oil. "As a result, neither the U.S. nor the Saudi people appreciated all the dimensions of the bilateral relationship," the report said.

The report, which cited former President Clinton for providing the commission with a "perceptive analysis" of the struggle faced by the kingdom's rulers, recommended that the United States push the often-repressive society to undertake political and economic reforms, including greater tolerance and cultural respect.

On Afghanistan, the report offers a mixed view of the administration's efforts there. The report notes that the administration paid "relatively little attention" to rebuilding Afghanistan at first, but the policy shifted in 2003. The report urged that the United States continue to make a long-term commitment to a stable Afghanistan.

The report sidestepped the question of whether the invasion of Iraq affected the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.

The report strongly supports the Bush administration's approach toward Pakistan, including its support of President Pervez Musharraf after he broke with the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Although Musharraf grabbed power in a bloodless coup and has thwarted democracy, the report said he "represents the best hope for stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

The report urged that the United States must stand for individual educational and economic opportunity throughout the Muslim world and not associate as closely with repressive regimes. "America's policy choices have consequences," the report said. "Those choices must be integrated with America's message of opportunity to the Arab and Muslim world."

Copyright 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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