A new look for President Bush's global war on terrorism sits atop Condoleezza Rice's early to-do list at the State Department. Expect fairly soon some useful new handles on the problem and a more coherent overall strategy to guide the struggle that the bureaucracy abbreviates as GWOT.
History is not ending again: Policy review does not amount to certain victory over the Salafi holy warriors who have attacked New York, the Pentagon, Madrid, Bali, Nairobi, Riyadh and other places over the past decade. A high-level strategy paper produced by committee is common-denominator guesswork, not a solid blueprint. Low levels often smother in the crib what high levels conjure and command into being.
Although greatly reduced since Rice replaced Colin Powell at Foggy Bottom, wrangling between the departments of State and Defense continues -- this time over operational details of the National Security Policy Directive that is being pulled together for what some policymakers are starting to call the global war on extremism (GWOE). Moreover, the snippets of the internal debate that have emerged do not make it clear that the administration will acknowledge the politically sensitive objective of rolling up the religious networks that produce and support the global jihadists of the Wahhabi, or Salafi, sect of Islam. If not, the Bush team will fight on with one hand tied behind its back.
Those caveats, however, should not obscure the importance of the refocusing and redefining exercise going on behind closed doors at the White House. In the election campaign and inaugural period, official Washington lost focus on the war on terrorism and, to a lesser extent, on the closely related battle for democracy in Iraq.
A Pentagon concept paper that sought to spell out new ways of looking at the war on terrorism languished at the White House for a year. The failure of the administration to move urgently to name a new ambassador to Iraq signaled the loss of U.S. political and diplomatic momentum after the Jan. 30 elections there.
But now sitting in the Cabinet, Rice has pumped new energy and discipline into a fractious system that languished when she was Bush's national security adviser. She moved quickly to establish clearer definitions and responsibilities for her department in the struggle to eradicate al Qaeda, the Zarqawi gang in Iraq and other jihadists.
That means defining other departments' responsibilities as well. In Bush's first term, bitter disputes -- based in personality clashes and a settling of old scores as much as in substance -- would have handicapped such an exercise.
But internal strife has largely subsided since the departure of Powell and his powerful deputy, Richard Armitage, who skillfully provided background information on the shortcomings of perceived enemies at the Pentagon and elsewhere to congressional and other allies. Here's an interesting coincidence: Armitage was a mentor to virtually all of the State Department personnel whose cases of mistreatment by U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton were cited in Senate hearings last week, and Powell has pointedly declined to support Bolton.
The essential question the review faces is put this way in a private musing by one Cabinet officer: How does the United States, which is good at fighting countries we are at war with, fight a war against extremists in countries we are friends with? (Hello? Saudi Arabia? You still on the line?)
The policy directive is set to delineate three essential tasks in GWOE: The Department of Homeland Security keeps the lead in defending U.S. territory against terrorist attack; the State Department will be in charge of counter-ideology against Islamic extremism, tasked with broadening and greatly strengthening the weak "public diplomacy" campaign of the first Bush term; and the Pentagon will destroy or disrupt "networks" of terrorism, wherever they exist.
This may seem like so much bureaucratic shuffling. But by shifting to the concepts of "networks" rather than "terrorists," and "extremism" rather than "terrorism," State and Defense will necessarily broaden their efforts to counter the tens of millions of real and potential jihadists who believe -- as the Rand Corp.'s Brian Jenkins recently put it -- that "war is its own reward, a perpetual condition until Judgment Day" and not a struggle with a finite end.
Jenkins cites the case of an Egyptian former jihadist who defected when he understood that "life was better than paradise" gained through murder and violence. Getting moderate Muslim leaders and nations to convince their citizens of that proposition should be the centerpiece of any strategy paper that comes out of the White House.