Jewish World Review April 11, 2004 / 21 Nissan, 5764

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The source of terror | The 9/11 commission finally heard from President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, last week under oath and listened to her explain her thinking, as well as that of the president and other members of the Bush administration, in the months leading up to Sept. 11. For two brief moments, I had hope that the commission was about to produce an important contribution that would help our government prevent another strike against this country.

Glaringly absent from the commission's investigation so far, and from the questions and answers of the commission's hearings and its staff reports, has been the recognition of the enemies we are fighting in the war on terror and honesty about those who support and have supported our enemies.

The first moment of hope came when Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton questioned Rice about her assertion that we must "address the source of the problem." Hamilton noted: "There are a lot of very, very fine - 2 billion Muslims. Most of them, we know, are very fine people. Some don't like us; they hate us." And then he invited Rice to elaborate. Regrettably, she demurred and chose not to address the fundamental question of who are our enemies.

The second moment came as Commissioner Bob Kerrey said straightforwardly: "I believe, first of all, that we underestimate that this war on terrorism is really a war against radical Islam. Terrorism is a tactic. It's not a war itself." Again, despite her statement that we must get to the source, Rice failed to respond to the former senator's clear assertion. One hopes that Kerrey's fellow commissioners and indeed the nation took heed of his words.

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The enemy, as Kerrey said, is radical Islam. And cutting off financing would severely restrict the ability of these radical groups to commit acts of terrorism.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and the committee's senior Democrat, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, wrote to Bush recently to express their concerns about the system currently in place to target terrorist financing. Baucus says: "Frankly, we're just . . . trading basic functions to Homeland Security and not really getting anything done. I suggest we concentrate it all, put it back into Treasury."

The Department of Homeland Security has been proven to be more bureaucracy than effective organization. And while the administration has been hesitant until now to communicate openly with the 9/11 Commission, the administration has dismissed initiatives aimed at choking off financing for radical Islamist terrorist organizations. Last month the administration shot down a request from the Internal Revenue Service to increase the number of criminal investigators working to obstruct the financing of terrorist organizations.

As our government grapples with how best to combat radical Islamist terrorism organizations, the situation in Iraq and the Middle East has worsened.

I believe that the Bush administration was right to destroy Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. But there is also absolutely no question that U.S. policy in post-Saddam Iraq has been nothing short of abysmal. This, in part, because we have not named our enemies. We've permitted the secretary of defense to refer to those who have killed more than 600 Americans and wounded thousands more as "bitter-enders" and "dead-enders."

Unfortunately the administration cannot point to other areas in the Middle East as examples of its vision for democracy and prosperity. As tensions have continued to flare in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent months, the administration's Middle East roadmap to peace seems stalled at best. And while we fail to name our enemies, radical Islamists, we also fail to embrace our friends and allies, the Israelis.

What began as crushing resolve following the Sept. 11 attacks and a bold concept for implementing Middle East peace has disappointed on all fronts. Simply put, the administration could not have been more right in asserting the ideals of democracy in the Middle East and more wrong in failing to assert the Bush vision with honesty and clarity. Those are essential values for any democracy whether nascent in the Middle East or proudly established more than 200 years ago in America.

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