The War On Terror should have its lease renewed, implies a new special report from the Heritage Foundation Counterterrorism Task Force. Standing firm against longstanding liberal opposition and mounting conservative skepticism over prosecuting counter-terrorism efforts under such grandiose rhetoric – and such far-reaching, invasive scope – the Task Force lauded the Bush-era policies and their successes in thwarting “40 Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks aimed at the United States” since 9/11, and in making America “demonstrably safer.”
At a recent panel discussion, the Heritage Task Force insisted that the two “fronts” of the struggle demand “constant vigilance” – both the operational and the ideological, the latter requiring the standard neoconservative “moral clarity.” Furthermore, funding for counterterrorism, including whatever military interventions are deemed necessary, must be ring-fenced, whatever America’s fiscal straits. The report forms part of a series marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 under the gung-ho title, “NEVER QUIT: Plans for Protecting America.” The imperatives of George W. Bush’s swollen national security state, it seems, must “NEVER” brook any deviation.
The report’s title, “A Counterterrorism Strategy for the ‘Next Wave’,” implies, with careful ambiguity, that some sort of post bin Laden al-Qaeda resurgence is in the pipeline – a specter alluded to numerous times in the panel discussion as “a worldwide insurgency against free nations.” That the threat of terrorism, after ten years of “war” waged against it, remains both immanent and existential is not left in doubt, despite evidence of the sagging membership and fragmentation of al-Qaeda, who in June installed a new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the capacity to divide the group’s base – not to mention al-Qaeda’s virtual absence form the Arab Spring.
The overwhelming emphasis in their proscriptions for an effective counter-terrorism policy was the bolstering of intelligence gathering capabilities and information sharing among federal agencies, state governments and foreign intelligence bureaus, whose mandate must not be limited by any trifling hang-ups over civil liberties. Strengthening bread-and-butter security apparatuses – airport body-scanners, large police presences in sensitive locations – is not sufficient, and to merely rely on vigilant cops (and vigilant members of the public, as with the Times Square bomber) to catch terrorists with their pants down is irresponsible. “Once the terrorist is in airport security line, the public is already in danger. […] The big bang in the buck is stopping terrorists preemptively.”
Chief among priorities was “Support for important investigative tools like the PATRIOT Act,” which has mandated the invasion of private communications, greater regulation of financial transactions, and the expansion of powers of detainment and deportment. The Task Force stressed the need to create “a lawful, durable detainment framework, written into law, which deals not only with detainees in Guantanamo, but also future captures in Afghanistan.” The extended detention of terror suspects under prior suspicion was, they maintained, an essential intelligence-gathering tool and the foremost means for preventing further attacks. This cavalier approach to due process was distilled in the remark of panelist James Carafano: while the American Constitution is a venerable document which should generally guide legislative decision making, “it does not provide for grey areas” – detention procedures being an example – in which counter-terrorism imperatives should presumably be prioritized.
Happily, the Task Force’s proscriptions would merely involve an extension of the status quo – but it is this, the post 9/11 terror orthodoxy sustained under Obama in a “Bush-lite” fashion (including his four-year extension of three key provisions of the Patriot Act in May 2011), which the Task Force fears will be jettisoned under new policy developments that Carafano was quick to label “dead wrong.” According to Carafano, the most troubling aspect of Obama’s slow but sure effort to turn the page on the Bush years is that the government is “ceasing to hold the initiative” in the fight against terrorism. This heresy is foremost at the level of rhetoric – namely, Obama’s refusal “to call the enemy by its name,” in a politically expedient attempt to “de-emotionalize” the issue and lessen the public demand for terrorist hunting.
There are grave operational flaws the Task Force members were also keen to point out: Obama’s “small footprint” strategy – vaguely described as treating terrorism as more of a standard law-and-order security concern, and disengaging from globe-hopping intelligence operations – will force America to rely on other, frequently untrustworthy nations for information. Counterterrorism policy is becoming increasingly “conservative and reactive” in its switch to the “law enforcement paradigm” – that which kept America asleep at the switch prior to 9/11, and which the Bush administration exchanged for the militant, open-ended policy we know today.
Particularly beyond the pale in the discussion of the Obama administration’s misdemeanors-in-the-making was the notion of withdrawing from Afghanistan – a prospect brushed unceremoniously from the table as soon as it came up. To “leave” Afghanistan – i.e. reduce troop numbers in any meaningful quantity – would be to open up a new home for al-Qaeda to plot the “Next Wave” of civilizational warfare. Besides, according to Carafano, “a robust strategy is affordable – and we can’t defend America on the cheap.” America’s fiscal problems are not caused by military spending, he asserted. Furthermore, what with the decreased intelligence capacity, proposed “trillion dollar cuts” are “the biggest threat to U.S. security today, more than any terrorist group.”
The message from Heritage was clear: keep up defense spending, and don’t enshrine civil liberties at the expense of “necessary” provisions such as the Patriot Act – or else we will be faced with the full fury of the “Next Wave.”