By Stan Crock It may be an apocryphal story, but it's said that sometime in the second half of the 20th century, the late Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai was asked what the impact of the French Revolution of 1789 was, and he replied, "It's too soon to tell."
That's how I feel about what's sure to be a key question in the 2004 Presidential campaign: Are we safer now?
At one level, it's clear we are. Because of heightened security precautions at airports, for example, it's less likely that anyone will hijack an airplane and steer it into the Sears Tower or the Capitol Dome. The system surely isn't foolproof, but it's better than it was.
SIGNS OF PROGRESS. Moreover, international cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, and tracking terrorists' finances is light years ahead of what it once was. The European Union is bolstering its cooperative efforts, the U.S. and Russia are strengthening ties, and even Saudi Arabia -- al Qaeda's piggy bank -- is lifting its game. (It took the bombing of Riyadh for the Saudis to "get it," and they still have a long way to go, but indications are of at least a slight epiphany on their part.)
This kind of global cooperation means that while we see the suffering from the Mar. 11 bombing in Madrid, which killed nearly 200 train passengers, and the daily carnage in Iraq, we also see police in Britain and the Philippines breaking up terrorist rings that allegedly were planning mayhem. The Spanish police on Apr. 2 were able to find a bomb under the tracks of the high-speed train line before it exploded. These are signs of progress, though they stem more from post-September 11 strategy than from Saddam Hussein's ouster in Iraq.
What remains unknown is whether the terrorists have equally heightened energy as well -- fueled by the U.S. intervention in Iraq, the increasing pressure on these organizations, or something else. That, in turn, raises the question of which side is escalating its efforts more. Since both sides operate in the shadows, I'm not even sure how success should be measured. A complete absence of bombings is the goal -- but probably an impossible benchmark. Israel has as tight a security scheme as any democracy could, but it still hasn't eliminated suicide bombers.
MEAT AND POTATOES. That gets us to the long-term, Chou En-Lai question. Over time, what's the prospect for increased safety? No one can be sure if more terrorists are being creating than are being caught. But a few things seem worth mentioning. For starters, the Bush Administration often dismisses the law-enforcement orientation of the Clinton team's anti-terrorism campaign, insisting instead that this is a war and that military operations are the heart of it. That's balderdash.
Sure, you can have brief military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. And you can have some Special Operations forces try to track down Osama bin Laden. But the meat and potatoes of the sustained, real work are law enforcement, intelligence, and tracking financial flows to dry up the money spigot. It was not the military that broke up the alleged terrorist ring in England. It was the police.
The Bush Administration won't admit this too openly because it would be a concession that the Clintonites were right. But it's a fact, and the world would probably be a lot better off if Washington focused more publicly on the importance of this effort.
GLOBAL CONNECTIONS. As the Israeli experience demonstrates, however, military and law-enforcement efforts alone won't do the trick. Thomas Barnett, an innovative strategist at the Naval War College, argues that a positive vision is also required. It's the absence of hope that breeds terrorists, he says in a soon-to-be-published book, The Pentagon's New Map. The dispossessed need some source of hope for a better future.
It has long been believed that possessions make people more conservative since they finally have something to lose from conflict. So economic growth, connecting people to the global economy in particular, are the keys to ending or reducing terrorism, Barnett argues.
Achieving that goal is a daunting task. But while we need the military and law-enforcement tracks, we must emphasize giving troubled regions not just howitzers and fighters but also housing and furniture. And not just in Iraq and the "arc of instability" that stretches from West Africa to South East Asia, but in all nations that are not already part of the global economy.
LEGITIMATE MONARCHIES. These countries need not become little Americas, with three branches of government and Wal-Mart. But they do need good, honest government, rule of law, and private markets. Washington's constant insistence on democracy is too imperialist-sounding. Nothing is wrong with starting out with a monarchy if it has historical legitimacy -- more legitimacy at least than generals who assume power via a coup. This gives monarchies a greater ability to adopt reforms. It happened in Britain, and it could happen in, say, Jordan.
The broader point, however, is America needs to make much more progress on everything other than the military, Barnett contends. He's right. It's the only way in the long run we all will be a lot safer. Crock covers national security and foreign affairs for BusinessWeek from Washington. Follow his views in Affairs of State twice a month, only on BusinessWeek Online