Losing the Battle with Terror

George W. Bush's avowed efforts to combat terrorism have weakened international institutions and squandered global goodwill toward the U.S.

The Iraq War has actually spawned a new front in what Bush likes to label as the U.S. war on terror, and provided a handy recruiting tool for terrorists while diverting resources from essential measures needed to ensure the nation's security.

Picture this: the U.S. government spends more every three days on the Iraq war than it has in three years on the security of the country's 361 commercial seaports.

As it lards up military spending to wage the Iraq War, the administration's 2004 budget cut $2 billion from crime prevention and public safety programs. The proposed 2005 budget slashed $805 million from emergency responders. Federal, state, and local first responder funding will fall short by about $100 billion over the next five years, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report.

A full two-thirds of the increase in the 2003 Pentagon budget funded programs and activities that are largely irrelevant to homeland security or counterterrorism operations, according to the Center for Defense Information.

In terms of homeland security, the Bush administration is endangering the lives of Americans with its reluctance to force companies to take actions to meet potential threats. About 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure is owned or controlled by the private sector.

When it comes to protecting the people who live near the country's chemical factories or power plants, safety guidelines are either inadequate or purely voluntary and important steps to safeguard the population are not being taken. The chemical industry has stalled any efforts at increasing security at the 123 facilities where a release of chemicals could threaten more than one million people.

As a further result of lax enforcement, 70 percent of the ports slated to meet container security standards did not meet the July 1, 2004 target.

Need more reasons to watch your back?

In August, Shaun Marshall, a medic for U.S. military contractor DynCorp was stopped at Kennedy airport after having flown from Afghanistan with explosives in his luggage. Port Authority police let him proceed with this small arsenal to his final destination in California after he claimed that the explosives were for training purposes. FBI agents later arrested him after Dyncorp denied that Marshall was involved in training exercises.

Just as alarmingly, three years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has not yet created a unified terrorist watchlist to guide law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The underlying problem with the Bush White House's efforts is that it has paid scant attention to root causes of international terrorism, including the social and political contexts that foster the rise of militancy. These include repressive regimes, failed states, and the poverty and inequality that can create conditions of support for terrorist acts.

Here's the bottom line: It doesn't have to be this way.

Terrorism is an ongoing threat that needs to be tackled through a strong, coordinated strategy focused upon strengthening civilian areas of operation. Effective policies would include: shift funds from the Defense Department to port container inspections; expand Coast Guard and Border Patrol programs; put spent reactor fuel into dry hardened storage; establish minimum requirements for improvement of security at chemical plants and industrial facilities; and increase the number of food inspectors and their resources at food processing facilities.

Abroad, the U.S. would become safer from terrorist attack if it were to focus on international cooperation rather than unilateralism. We should fully fund programs that reduce the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons conventions, including the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Fissile Material Control Regime, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

More broadly, the U.S. should enhance its capacity to respond quickly to failing states by expanding support for peacekeeping initiatives through the U.S. Army's Peacekeeping and Stability Operations and expanding military assistance to strengthen other countries' efforts to engage in peacekeeping operations. We must reduce financial and military backing for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and dependence of the U.S. and its allies on oil imports from repressive governments.

War is the least effective approach to combating terrorism and should represent the last resort. The UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the best-known and most authoritative source of information on global defense capabilities and trends, estimates that worldwide Al Qaeda membership now stands at 18,000 with 1,000 active members in Iraq. According to the ISS, this unnecessary conflict has "accelerated recruitment" for al-Qaida.

In sum, the Bush administration's war on terror has been a failure.

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