Wanted: Global Teamwork on Terrorism

By Jim Hoagland (THE WASHINGTON POST, 08/09/06):

MOSCOW — There is one way, at least, in which Americans are safer from surprise attack five years after Sept. 11, 2001. They live in a world that is more on guard against jihadist terrorism and more ready to act to foil it.

Other nations have also had to come to terms with the threat of indiscriminate attacks on their soil or citizens by radical Islamic extremists who see their struggle as a global one. Many abroad have gone from merely sympathizing with the overwhelming sense of vulnerability visited on Americans on that day of horror to sharing it.

This week alone, Denmark announced it had foiled a terrorist plot, Jordan captured a gunman who murdered and wounded tourists for motives that remain unclear, and Britain and Germany moved ahead with separate investigations of bomb conspiracies targeting U.K. airliners and German trains.

Morocco, meanwhile, uncovered an al-Qaeda-linked plot. And it was European and Canadian troops under a NATO command — not U.S. soldiers — who took the heaviest casualties in Afghanistan.

Here in the Russian capital, the second anniversary of the Beslan school massacre was marked with a mixture of somber ceremonies and political invective that seemed similar to the mood brought to Washington by the approaching Sept. 11 anniversary. And a transatlantic poll released by the German Marshall Fund on Wednesday reported that Americans and Europeans are in close agreement that the three greatest threats to global peace over the next decade are terrorism, Iran getting a nuclear weapon and radical Islamic fundamentalism.

But if the sense of vulnerability has spread abroad in the past five years, the international response to the threat of terrorist assaults has remained far from being unified or even particularly coherent. The greatest task for the next five years in the post-Sept. 11 era is to create and manage a truly integrated international campaign to displace and contain jihadist terrorism as a political weapon.

The Bush administration can help start that effort by adjusting the rhetoric, goals and style of its war on global terrorism. That is particularly true when its statements will reach non-American audiences. They are increasingly aware that they, too, are in the sights of religiously and racially inspired fanatics but are hard put to see how Washington’s approach will help protect them as well as the U.S. homeland, which has been spared since 2001.

The White House should acknowledge that the gains in global vigilance and intrusive police work thus far have largely been a case of collateral help: These gains have everything to do with self-interest and only secondarily with U.S. leadership. Other nations have adopted cumbersome and spotty security measures at airports, government buildings and other sensitive spots — the long-term legacy of Sept. 11 — to protect themselves first and foremost.

Self-interest in this area should not be disdained, or obscured by U.S. boasts that the war on terrorism and a coalition assembled by Washington are alone responsible for keeping terrorist networks off balance and on the run. Americans need to be told by the president and his senior aides more, and more often, about the role that European, Asian, Arab and other forces and investigators are playing in this effort.

The White House paid passing tribute to the international dimension of this broad conflict in the new National Strategy for Combating Terrorism released on Tuesday as part of a pre-anniversary campaign to argue that it has made the world and the country safer. Terrorists have struck “from Bali to Beslan to Baghdad,” the document notes.

But it then fails to make vital distinctions that separate the motivations and methods involved in the attacks on Western tourists in Indonesia, schoolchildren in Russia and Iraqi Shiite worshipers at holy shrines that the alliterative phrase conjures. The White House paints the terrorist threat with such a broad brush — as does the phrase “Islamic fascism” — that other nations may have difficulty finding their own interests and concerns being addressed.

Five years have not been nearly enough time to erase the particularly American nature of the anger, fear and determination that seized the nation in response to the unjustifiable atrocity of Sept. 11. Five hundred may not be long enough.

But it has become clear in five years that jihadist terrorism is not a uniquely American problem, and the responsibility for resolving it is not uniquely American, either. An opportunity to harness a broader, more coordinated international response is now available to Washington. But is the skill?